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Journal of Catholic Social Thought

Volume 3 Number 2
Summer, 2006
Table of Contents

225 Introduction
Barbara E. Wall, Villanova University

Historical and Theological Perspectives

231 Theological and Ecclesiological Foundations of Gaudium et Spes
Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Archbishop of Sao Paulo
243 An Historical Perspective and Gaudium et Spes
Andrea Riccardi, Community of St. Egidio
257 Catholic Social Thought as Discernment
Johan Verstraeten, Katolieke Universiteiti, Leuven, Belgium
273 Gaudium et Spes and Catholic Higher Education
Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia

Developing World Applications

283 Gaudium et Spes and the Struggle for Human Rights in Peru
Mateo Garr, S.J., Comisión Episcopal de Acción Social
301 A Church in the Modern World in Africa: The Zambian Experience
Peter J. Henriot, S.J., Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection,
Lusaka, Zambia

Social and Economic Applications

321 Gaudium et Spes and Catholic Ethics in Post-Industrial Economics:
Indirect Employers and Globalization
Albino Barrera, Providence College
335 Economic and Philosophical Reflection on Private Wealth
Robert H. DeFina and Barbara E. Wall, Villanova University
355 Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach to Development and Gaudium et
Spes: on Political Participation and Structural Solidarity
Séverine Deneulin, Von Hügel Institute, St. Edmund’s College,
Cambridge, UK
373 Gaudium et Spes Suggests a Change in Moral Imagination to Ensure
the Just Treatment of Women
Marilyn Martone, St. John’s University (NY)

ISSN 1548-0712

Copyright © 2006. Villanova University. All Rights Reserved.

Permission to copy, reprint, republish, or otherwise distribute content of the

Journal of Catholic Social Thought should be directed to the Managing Editor,
202 Vasey Hall, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085.

Barbara E. Wall

Profound and rapid changes make it particularly urgent that no one, ignoring the
trend of events or drugged by laziness, content himself with a merely individualistic
morality. It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are
fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to his own
abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private in
situations dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.1

In 1965, Vatican Council II’s document, The Pastoral Constitution on

the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), again called for a
dialogue between the Church and the modern world, especially on so-
cial and economic concerns of peoples throughout the world in order
that the common good of all peoples might be achieved through just and
peaceful means.

In 1965, the world exhibited a state of disorder: the Berlin Wall was
built in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis made the possibility of
nuclear war a real threat. In addition, the peoples of the world became
more aware of the impact of hunger, poverty and illiteracy on the citi-
zenry of the world. In the United States, we witnessed the challenges to
two hundred years of legalized discrimination by means of new civil
rights legislation, which was enacted to secure basic human rights for
all peoples including minorities.

The tradition of Catholic social teaching during the decade of the

sixties attempted to emphasize the inherent dignity of the human per-
son, imago dei, and that in a redeemed world all people have an inher-

Barbara E. Wall is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Assistant to the President for

Mission Effectiveness and an executive editor of the Journal of Catholic Social Thought
at Villanova University.

David J. O’Brien and Thomas A. Shannon. “The Church in the Modern World,”
p. 183, GS 30 in Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage. Maryknoll, NY:
Orbis Books, 2000.



ent dignity given by God and that human life is ordained to fulfillment
in the community. It is in the community that people achieve the real-
ization of their basic human rights. There is also a cautionary tale here
in how to support the quest for human rights, achievement of the com-
mon good, and avoid the excesses of individualism which often preclude
a commitment to the common good.

In 2005, a consortium of kindred organizations that promote the

value of Catholic social thought in public discourse arranged a confer-
ence to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Gaudium et spes.2 The con-
ference carried the title “The Call to Justice: The Legacy of Gaudium et
Spes 40 Years Later,” and included an array of papers that continue the
long tradition of engaging Catholic social teaching and the changing
historical situations throughout the world with regard to the continued
commitment to achieve the common good. In collaboration with these
institutions, the Journal of Catholic Social Thought agreed to publish
a selection of the conference papers along with an address by Justin
Cardinal Rigali. In this edition of the Journal, we proudly offer that

Cardinal Claudio Hummes’ “Theological and Ecclesiological Founda-

tions of Gaudium et Spes” is a pastoral reflection on the disorder he
sees in the world from when the document was first published through
the present day. “Today, in a world that more and more is globalized
and interconnected thanks to the advance of communications technolo-
gies, the church’s mission, if it is to be an instrument of unity for the
human race, becomes more relevant . . . a servant Church must have
solidarity with the poor as her priority . . . a Church that, taking up the
mission of Jesus, is in the world, not to judge humanity but to love it
and save it.”

The theme of pastoral response to the contemporary world is the focus

of Andrea Riccardi’s “An Historical Perspective and Gaudium et Spes.”
The complex interpretations and dialogues that ensued with the pub-
lication of Gaudium et spes are all part of the rich, historical attempt to
engage the contemporary world through the lens of Catholic social

The organizations include: the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the John A.
Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies, the
Center for the Study of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the Catholic University of the
Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy, the Center for Catholic Social Thought, Leuven, Belgium,
Peter J. Tobin School of Business and the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, St.
John’s University, New York, Faculty of Social Sciences of the Pontifical University, St.
Thomas Aquinas, Rome, and the Faculty of Social Science, Pontifical Gregorian Uni-
versity, Rome.

teaching. According to Riccardi, the Church has an historical role for all
time, and the methodology of Gaudium et spes directs our attention to
an ever relevant message: “It is no longer possible to speak of the
Church without raising the problems, the situations and the contexts
of the modern world. It is the life-breath of a great Church that
knows she is not a small community closed in on herself, but that is
also aware of her duty to live with others who are religiously and cul-
turally different.”

The spiritual practice of discernment is all the more critical when one
is called to a process described in Gaudium et spes as the duty of “scru-
tinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the
gospel.” (GS, 4) Johan Verstraeten provides a much needed analysis of
the nature of the methodological connections between theological inter-
pretation and social analysis. Verstraeten encourages us to imagine the
role of the Church as proclaimer of a new vision for the future of the
human community—a vision rooted in a dialectic between the existing
world and the future predicated on a vision that reflects “the future of
reaching out to meet the present as an annunciation of something more
or as a disjunction from what is.”

An address by Justin Cardinal Rigali on “Gaudium et Spes and Catho-

lic Higher Education” challenges Catholic universities to take the mes-
sage of Gaudium et spes and become the place where the new human-
ism announced in Gaudium et spes can and ought to be celebrated as a
central component of its identity.

“People are conscious, the Council says, that they themselves can be the artisans
and authors of the culture of their community. This presumes a sense of respon-
sibility and solidarity. This is the context in which the Council says that we are
witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which the human being is defined
especially by his or her responsibility toward his or her brothers and sisters and
toward history. In the humanization of the world, how important it is that each
person realizes his or her responsibility to others. Is not a Catholic university a
powerful forum for this solidarity to be realized and this humanization to take

The theme of human rights surely is an important concern of Catholic

social teaching, especially of Pacem in terris and Gaudium et spes both
issued between 1963-1965. The “signs of the times” with regard to hu-
man rights were most evident in these documents. Mateo Garr’s
“Gaudium et Spes and the Struggle for Human Rights in Peru,” makes
the case that human rights discourse has “not only become the back-

bone of social pastoral ministry in Latin America but has become, in-
deed, one of the basic principles of Church social teaching which need to
be applied to any social analysis.” Garr’s article provides yet another
example of the methodological connection between theological interpre-
tation and social example.

Peter Henriot’s “A Church in the Modern World of Africa: the Zam-

bian Experience,” provides a model of incarnation in the inculturation
of the Church in the modern world of Africa and Zambia in particular.
In its proclamation of Catholic social teaching, the Church has em-
ployed a methodology of ecumenical cooperation, an inductive approach,
and a consultative, practical venue. The lessons from the Zambian ex-
perience reflect the need to read the signs of the times, provide intel-
ligent research, promote international cooperation, and attend to issues
of justice in the Church.

Economic applications derived from a forty year reflection on

Gaudium et spes is first developed in Albino Barrera’s “Gaudium et
Spes and Catholic Ethics in Post-Industrial Economics: Indirect Em-
ployers and Globalization.” Barrera argues that the Second Vatican
Council’s (1) exposition on the inseparability of personal good and the
good of the community and (2) its understanding of the human com-
munity as familial add much to the notion of the indirect employer by
defining the addressees, scope, and strength of its concomitant duties.
Gaudium et spes has much to contribute in formulating an appropriate
economic ethics in a postindustrial ethos that attends to the adverse
unintended consequences of market operations.

Robert DeFina and Barbara Wall contribute an analysis of the nature

of “wealth” as treated in recent documents of Catholic social teaching as
providing a context for the analysis of “wealth” in Gaudium et spes. This
analysis provides reflection on the interconnections of wealth accumu-
lation and income distribution as a foundation for future recommenda-
tions and action to determine just models for the accumulation of
wealth. Having established a philosophical basis for questioning the
ways in which wealth is actually used in capitalist economies, the paper
then turns to practical ways in which Catholic social teaching has em-
ployed the notion of wealth when discussing issues of economic justice.
The argument offered is that the Catholic social teaching tradition has
generally overlooked important social processes related to the genera-
tion and distribution of wealth, focusing instead on income. The virtu-
ally exclusive reliance on income represents a significant shortcoming
in the writings on economic production and distribution, and consti-
tutes a logical disconnect from the tradition’s conceptual groundings.

Most importantly, it has prevented Catholic social teaching from mak-

ing important contributions to the creation of an economic system con-
sistent with Gospel values.

Social applications of Gaudium et spes—forty years later are found in

the article by Séverine Deneulin’s “Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach
to Development and Gaudium et Spes: On Political Participation and
Structural Solidarity,” which brings into focus a dialogue between the
economic approach of Amartya Sen’s thesis of human development as
freedoms or capabilities that reflect a quality of life which enables
people “to do valuable acts or reach valuable states of being.” The con-
nection to the common good as reiterated in Gaudium et spes has in-
teresting possibilities for similarities and difference: “while in Sen’s
capability approach, autonomy and individual freedom tend to have a
normative priority over affiliation.”

Marilyn Martone’s “Gaudium et Spes Suggests a Change in Moral

Imagination To Ensure the Just Treatment of Women,” provides a rel-
evant treatment of the changes necessary for the transformation of the
inequitable treatment of women throughout the world. She suggests
that there is a need for “change in the moral imagination to break down
the cultural traditions and stereotypes that allow women to be treated
as less than human.” Martone provides a theological reflection on the
nature of person as gift—applied universally to all people, male and
female. Moving from an ownership model of human life—ours and
others—we find an invitation to become stewards of the gift. Such a call
takes us beyond the language of rights to think more about the sacra-
mentality of human life as a gift to oneself and the other.

Profound and rapid changes continue to impact the lives of people

throughout the world, and it is our hope that this issue will continue
the dialogue to achieve a more just and peaceful world commu-
nity where all people are respected for their inherent dignity and
Theological and Ecclesiological
Foundations of Gaudium et Spes

Claudio Cardinal Hummes


The theme of the theological and ecclesiological foundations of

Gaudium et spes (GS), a document of the Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council, is richer and more fascinating than what I can present here.
I shall not deal with this theme as a professional theologian would,
rather I shall simply present it as a pastor of the Church. Within these
limits, I shall attempt to underline certain aspects of the theme that
strike me as more significant and pastoral.

Pope John XXIII first expressed his idea of celebrating a Council for
the whole Church when, on 25 January 1959 in the Basilica of Saint
Paul Outside the Walls, he said, and I quote: “Venerable Brothers,
Beloved Sons! It is certainly with a little trembling because of the emo-
tion, but at the same time with humble resolve of purpose, that we
announce in your presence the name and the proposal . . . of an Ecu-
menical Council for the Universal Church.”1 The Pope’s concerns and
intentions are above all pastoral, for updating the Church so that she
might be “the Church of all, especially the poor.”2 He is concerned for
modern humanity and its openness to the Church of Jesus Christ.

In the Bull Humanae Salutis, convoking the Council, John XXIII

writes: “Today the Church is witnessing a crisis under way within so-
ciety. While humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense
gravity and amplitude await the Church. . . . It is a question in fact of
bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial
energies of the Gospel.” 3

Claudio Cardinal Hummes is Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil.

AAS 51 [1959], pp. 65-69.
cf. G. Alberigo, Historia dos Concilios Ecumenicos, Sao Paulo, pp. 397-398.
The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., America Press, 1966, p. 703.



Now, the document Gaudium et spes was identified as constituting

the fundamental pastoral text, and the longest text, of the Council, such
that it was given the name of Pastoral Constitution. The Most Reverend
Emilio Guano, President of the Commission that drew up the initial
draft of this Constitution, stated on 17 October 1964, in a conference
given to journalists just a few days before the discussions of the draft
began, “This draft is not like the others. Its immediate and direct object
is not Church doctrine. It does not deal with the Church’s self-
awareness, nor with Revelation, nor with the renewal of spiritual or
liturgical life, nor with Church discipline or canonical issues. . . . The
world of today with all its problems is the theme of this document. It is
the Church directing her gaze upon modern civilization, upon the needs
and aspirations of contemporary humanity, upon the new trans-
formations and orientations that characterize modern society. . . . The
interest for all that is human is something essential in the Church,
for she was founded for humanity by the Son of God made man, a
member of the human family. These motivations prompt the Church to
seek to understand men and at the same time to be understood by
men. . . . Naturally, upon entering into contact with daily reality, the
Church cannot forget that her mission is that of proclaiming the Gospel,
of communicating divine life to men, of leading men to God. With the
present proposed document the Council seeks to express and promote
the Church’s dialogue with the modern world. The purpose, moreover,
of the document is to define the Church’s attitude with regard to the
problems facing men today”.

Overall, this pastoral character of Vatican II and, particularly, of

Gaudium et spes has theological and ecclesiological foundations, from
which will consequently arise various concerns, content and aims of a
pastoral nature.

God Acting in Human History: Incarnation, Earthly

Realities, Eschatology

The understanding that God acts in human history is not recent but
comes to us from tradition. It belongs itself to Judeo-Christian tradi-
tion, forming part of the central core of the Old Testament. This is what
we read, for example, in Exodus 3:7-8, when the liberating action of God
on behalf of his people is proclaimed. This same action is also present in
the central core of New Testament faith, as a fundamental understand-
ing of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and hence we read that “the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), becoming Emman-
uel, “God-with-us”.

History is not foreign to its Creator. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei

Verbum (DV) of the Council teaches that the revelation of God is made
in history (DV, 2), God becomes present in history so as to offer salva-
tion to humanity by means of his Son made man, Jesus Christ. Here, we
find the affirmation of the total relevance of the Church’s faith in the
Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man for the salvation of
mankind, as was already proclaimed by the Nicene Council.4
God makes himself known to men and women by his action in history.
Revealing himself in history, God makes himself present in history for
the salvation of humanity, this is the truth in which the Church be-
lieves. This shows the closeness of God, whom Jesus proclaimed as a
loving Father. In Jesus Christ and through him, God becomes God-
with-us, in order to lead us to his kingdom. Thus, human history is
taken up by Jesus as the history of the Word among us.
This perspective of God the Creator, who makes himself present in
history, acts lovingly in history and reveals himself in history, allows us
to see the value of earthly realities. Gaudium et spes begins with words
of a profound sharing in the whole of human reality in the world (GS,
1). It affirms the deep-rooted goodness of the world created by God,
despite the contradictions present in it that arise from original sin and
from all personal sins. The text of Gaudium et spes says: “For by the
very circumstance of their having been created [by God], all things are
endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and
order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate
methods of the individual sciences or arts. Therefore if methodical in-
vestigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely
scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly con-
flicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive
from the same God. Indeed, whoever labours to penetrate the secrets of
reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of
the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all
things in existence, and gives them their identity” (GS, 36).
In this way, the Council affirms “the autonomy of earthly affairs”. It
does so more explicitly in the following passage from Gaudium et spes:
“If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and
societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be
gradually deciphered, put to use and regulated by men, then it is en-
tirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by
modern man, but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator” (GS, 36).

cf. Denzinger, nos. 125-126 [H. Denzinger & P. Hunermann, Enchiridion Sym-
bolorum, Paris, Cerf, 1997].

This positive view of creation, of human activity, of science, of tech-

nology, of the laws of human society and of history is a characteristic of
the Second Vatican Council, and in particular of the document
Gaudium et spes, which can also help us today in engaging in dialogue
with society regarding the true autonomy of the State.

The clear recognition of the autonomy of earthly realities was a great

advance made by this Council, which put it in step with modernity.
In fact, faith is not opposed to science. Gaudium et spes states: “We
cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found
too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful
independence of science and which, from the arguments and controver-
sies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are
mutually opposed” (GS, 36).

On the other hand, Gaudium et spes rejects all scientism and secu-
larism concerning the autonomy of “earthly/temporal realities”: “if the
expression ‘the independence of temporal affairs’ is taken to mean that
created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them
without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God
will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the
creature would disappear. . . . When God is forgotten, however, the
creature itself grows unintelligible” (GS, 36).

Nonetheless, Gaudium et spes does not forget that creation, history

and human activity were wounded by human sin, from the very begin-
ning of the human race. Man moved away from God and turned to
himself as light and rule, attempting to be the sole autonomous subject
of his history and destiny. His deep-rooted self-centredness brought
disorder, the consequences of which have remained throughout the
ages. Gaudium et spes has described these consequences as follows:
“When the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good,
individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not
to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place
of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity
threatens to destroy the race itself. For a monumental struggle against
the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle
was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the
last day, as the Lord has attested (Mt 24:13; 13:24-30 and 36-43)” (GS,

This situation of disorder needs to be healed. According to our faith,

which Gaudium et spes seeks to express, creation too and all human
activity enter mysteriously into the paschal event of human redemp-

tion, taking part in their own way in the mystery of the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. Creation too groans in birth pangs, says
the Apostle Paul. At the end of time, when human history will be ful-
filled and the definitive reign of God will be established, with the res-
urrection of the dead, creation too and all human actions will be trans-
formed and there will be new heavens and a new earth, “where justice
will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the long-
ings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, with death
overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was
sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility.
Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made
on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity. . . .
While earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth
of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the
better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of
God. For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on
earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and in-
deed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them
again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ
hands over to the Father ‘a kingdom eternal and universal’. . . . On this
earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord re-
turns it will be brought into full flower” (GS, 39).
Jesus Christ and the New Man: Christology and Anthropology
In the desire to present the correct relationship between the Church
and the world, Gaudium et spes begins with an anthropological synthe-
sis, the fundamental elements of which are the following: man, created
by God, created in the image and likeness of his Creator, created as a
social being (male and female), one being composed of matter and spirit
(body and soul), endowed with intellect, freedom and moral conscience
as essential elements of a spiritual interiority and of a capacity to
transcend the material world in which he has his roots, but at the same
time with an internal division, rent from within by the wound of sin
from the very beginning of human history. Consequently, “all of human
life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic
struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed,
man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil
successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains”
(GS, 13).
Gaudium et spes highlights the subjectivity of the human being,
which enables him to be at the centre of the universe, despite the
wounds of sin. In highlighting this subjectivity and a consequent an-
thropocentric vision of the world, the Council prompts the Church to

take a decisive step in the direction of modernity. In the end, the theme
that is perhaps most representative of modernity—introduced by the
Enlightenment—is precisely that of subjectivity. For example, when
speaking of man and his subjectivity, Gaudium et spes follows the an-
thropological and anthropocentric themes of modernity, and in present-
ing the fundamental components of the human subject it makes a dis-
tinction between freedom/autonomy (GS, 17), equality (GS, 29) and
brotherhood (GS, 32), the inviolable dignity and authority of the depths
of moral conscience. These are components of human subjectivity situ-
ated within the framework of the community dimension of the person
(GS, 24-26).
I mention separately here the very important doctrine found in
Gaudium et spes concerning the dignity of the innermost moral con-
science of the human subject. Gaudium et spes says: “In the depths of
his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon him-
self, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love
good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to
his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by
God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be
judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man.
There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. . . . In
fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the
search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems
which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. . . . Con-
science frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dig-
nity” (GS, 16). It is moreover proper to the dignity of the human subject,
and a duty of his, to follow his conscience always, even when it may be
in error because of invincible ignorance. In this latter case, then, the
presumption is that there has been a prior and normal effort to form
one’s conscience correctly, seeking to discern the good to be done and
the truth to be held, although without positive result.
Seeking the truth about man, beyond what the light of human reason
can offer us, Gaudium et spes illuminates anthropology with the light of
Christology and teaches that only in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made
man, “does the mystery of man take on light” (GS, 22). In fact, Gaudium
et spes tells us, Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God”, he is
“the perfect man. To the sons of Adam he restores the divine likeness
which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human
nature as he assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been
raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by his Incarnation
the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man. He
worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by
human choice and loved with a human heart”. Hence, “Christ, the final

Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully
reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear”.
Consequently, everything that Gaudium et spes says about the human
subject and his inviolable dignity has in Jesus Christ its “root” and in
him attains its “crown” (GS, 22).

Light is also shed on the mystery of human life and death by Christ,
and from him they receive their true meaning. “Born of the Virgin
Mary, [Christ] has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except
sin. As an innocent lamb he merited for us life by the free shedding of
his own blood. In him God reconciled us to himself and among our-
selves; from bondage to the devil and sin he delivered us. . . . By suf-
fering for us he not only provided us with an example for our imitation,
he blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and
take on a new meaning” (GS, 22).

This new meaning and this sanctification of man are made manifest
and are brought about in those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow
him. Thus they will be “conformed to the likeness of that Son who is the
firstborn of many brothers”; the Christian man has “received ‘the first-
fruits of the Spirit’ (Rom 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharg-
ing the new law of love” (GS, 22). This Spirit, who Christians receive,
will one day raise them from the dead, just as Jesus was raised, in
accordance with what the Apostle Paul says: “If the Spirit of him who
raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus
from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit
which dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). This is moreover the sublime vocation
and dignity of the human being. After this mortal life, in which Chris-
tians are faced with “the need and the duty to battle against evil
through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death”, Christians are
called to take part in the glorious resurrection of Christ (GS, 22).

At this point, Gaudium et spes opens the vast theme of the univer-
sality of this human vocation and of the Lord’s consequent mercy for all
human beings. It tells us that everything that is said about the Chris-
tian is also true for all people of good will who did not know Christ, but
sought the path of good and truth. The text reads: “All this [what has
been said about Christians] holds true not only for Christians, but for
all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For,
since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is
in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a
manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being
associated with this paschal mystery” (GS, 22). This doctrine is of great
relevance today in inter-religious dialogue, which is so necessary in a

globalized world in which the different religions and non-believers too

must necessarily live together.

Gaudium et spes concludes this reflection on the human vocation by

saying: “Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by
believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in
Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from his
Gospel, they overwhelm us” (GS, 22).

The Church of God: In the World, as a Servant, in Solidarity

with the Poor, in Dialogue, the Universal Sacrament of the
Unity of Salvation, Promoter of Justice and Peace

The ecclesiological foundations of Gaudium et spes show its under-

standing of the Church as being in the world. The Church “exists in the
world, living and acting with it” (GS, 40). It is not an institution parallel
to the world or an abstract institution, but is in the world. However,
Gaudium et spes, as the final Constitution of the Council, understands
the mystery of the Church in a way consonant with the previous Coun-
cil documents that dealt with the Church, principally Lumen Gentium
(LG), although looking closely at the Church in terms of her necessary
insertion in the modern world and looking closely at the consequences
of her being in the world.

Thus, Gaudium et spes sees the Church in her beginnings as “coming

forth from the eternal Father’s love, founded in time by Christ the
Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit” (GS, 40). Her origin, her
foundation and her model is the Blessed Trinity, a mystery of commu-
nion. Being of the world, she, whose model is the Blessed Trinity, is
constituted as a sign and instrument of the unity of the human race.5
Today, in a world that more and more is globalized and interconnected
thanks to the advances of communication technologies, the Church’s
mission, if it is to be an instrument of unity for the human race, be-
comes more relevant and has new possibilities and challenges.

The Church, according to Gaudium et spes, is also and principally an

instrument of salvation for the whole human race, a salvation “which
can be fully attained only in the future world” (GS, 40), beyond human
history, that is, in a transcendent eschatological fulfillment. “But she is
already present in this world, and is composed of men, that is, of mem-

cf. Lumen Gentium, 1.

bers of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God’s
children” (GS, 40). The Church is at the same time “a visible association
and a spiritual community” that walks “together with humanity and
experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a
leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in
Christ and transformed into God’s family” (GS, 40).

Gaudium et spes, taking its lead from all the reflections made by the
Council, emphasizes that the Church is at the service of man and of
every person, at the service of humanity, and she cannot seek to domi-
nate humanity. In this she follows the example of Christ who came as
a servant. “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). “The Son of
man also came not to be served but to serve and to give his life” (Mk
10:45). “I have given you an example . . . a servant is not greater than
his master” (Jn 13:15-16). This is within the context of the love with
which God has loved the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave
his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have
eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the
world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17).
The Church is at the service of humanity. She “believes she can con-
tribute greatly toward making the family of man and its history more
human” (GS, 40).

In this context, the Church supports and fosters all current efforts
aimed at the full personal development of every human being, and she
promotes the fundamental rights, dignity and freedom of man. But she
also wishes to help man to discover the full truth of the human being
and his vocation in this world. For this reason she points to Jesus
Christ, in whom this full truth is found. Gaudium et spes states: “man
will always yearn to know, at least in an obscure way, what is the
meaning of his life, of his activity, of his death. . . . But only God, who
created man to his own image and ransomed him from sin, provides the
most adequate answer to the questions, and this he does through
what he has revealed in Christ his Son, who became man. Whoever
follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes himself more of a man”
(GS, 41). In the light of this anthropology upon which Christology medi-
tates, the Church “announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of
God . . . has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its
freedom of choice . . . proclaims the rights of man; she acknowledges
and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these
rights are everywhere fostered” (GS, 41). But the Church does not fail
to give a warning: “Yet these movements [fostering human rights] must
be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind
of false autonomy” (GS, 41).

A servant Church must have solidarity with the poor as her priority.
The Apostle Paul wrote that what matters is “faith working through
love” (Gal 5:6). Faith must be expressed in love and in solidarity, which
is the social version of love. This is an eminent form—extremely rel-
evant, urgent and indispensable—of the Church’s presence in the
world. Gaudium et spes makes a marked distinction between the ser-
vice that the Church must give to the world through solidarity with all
the poor and efforts to overcome poverty, misery and hunger in the
world. Today more than ever, the Church takes up this challenge. In
fact, effective solidarity with the poor, whether individuals or entire
countries, is indispensable for building peace. Solidarity corrects injus-
tices, re-establishes the fundamental rights of individuals and nations,
conquers poverty and thus combats the revolt that injustice incites,
removes violence that is born from revolt and builds peace.
In this fight against injustice, Gaudium et spes appeals to the prin-
ciple of the universal destination of earthly goods and says: “God in-
tended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all hu-
man beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in
the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in
like manner” (GS, 69). It is important to emphasize that Gaudium et
spes notes a difference between this Christian position and mere jus-
tice, which the world takes as its guide, because many are the times
that justice is not sufficient to rescue the poor, charity too is necessary,
and faith alone can be the basis of charity. How can the rich and de-
veloped nations be brought truly to share the goods of the earth with
the poor nations? How can the poor nations be brought to take their
places at the universal table of the goods of the earth, in the context of
the new worldwide globalized order of open and free markets? The
Church must work hard at this task, proclaiming the rights of peoples,
placing herself at the service of poor countries, engaging in dialogue
about what needs to be corrected in the new world economic order. This
is the path for building peace, because poverty creates a just revolt,
which unfortunately erupts often in violence. Could it be that one of the
elements of modern terrorism is the revolt against a poverty that is
imposed and felt as practically unavoidable in the near future, a pov-
erty that is not just short-term?
In a broad and extensive manner, Gaudium et spes exhorts Christians
to fight against poverty, misery, hunger, the degradation of so many
people and entire countries. We read: “Christians should cooperate will-
ingly and wholeheartedly in establishing an international order that
includes a genuine respect for all freedoms and amicable brotherhood
between all. This is all the more pressing since the greater part of the
world is still suffering from so much poverty that it is as if Christ

himself were crying out in these poor to beg the charity of the disciples”
(GS, 88). It is here that Gaudium et spes condemns the following as a
scandal: “some countries with a majority of citizens who are counted as
Christians have an abundance of wealth, whereas others are deprived
of the necessities of life and are tormented with hunger, disease and
every kind of misery” (GS, 88). We all know how sadly true this is even
in our own day; the fight against poverty in the world poses a challenge
for the Church’s action on an international level.

The Church, present in the world and active in human society and in
history, does not exist to exercise political power nor to govern society,
for “the purpose which Christ set before her is a religious one” (GS, 42).
However, she cannot remain indifferent to politics, in the broad sense of
the word, as the quest to organize and promote the common good. “The
Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous
and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are
devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men” (GS, 76).
The same is true for all sectors of public life, such as the economy, social
and charitable services for the poor, building peace and so on.

In a special way, the Church is a kind of “sacrament or sign of inti-

mate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind” (LG, 1). The
unity of the human race continues to be ever more keenly seen in our
modern day, mostly because of the phenomenon of globalization. This
phenomenon was already foreseen by Gaudium et spes, which demon-
strates how the Church can and must be at the service of this unity. In
this process, according to Gaudium et spes, “the Church recognizes that
worthy elements are found in today’s social movements, especially an
evolution toward unity, a process of wholesome socialization and of
association in civic and economic realms. The promotion of unity be-
longs to the innermost nature of the Church” (GS, 42). In this service to
the unity of the human race, the Church does not seek any type of
earthly power in society: “the force which the Church can inject into the
modern society of man consists in that faith and charity put into vital
practice, not in any external dominion exercised by merely human
means” (GS, 42).


I conclude by saying that in all her involvement and living presence in

human society, the Church must constantly engage in dialogue. This
may perhaps be one of the most important methods today for creat-
ing a positive and constructive relation with society. A courageous dia-
logue that is open, honest, sensitive and humble. A dialogue with
modern man, with human reason, the sciences, the advances of biotech-

nology, with philosophy and cultures, with politics and the economy,
with anything that has a connection with social justice, human rights,
solidarity with the poor. A dialogue with all of society and its various
component parts.

A dialogue with religions. A constant, systematic, professional, con-

structive dialogue of quality. A dialogue that is able to listen, discuss,
discern and assimilate what is good and true, just and worthy of man:
this is the kind of dialogue that is proposed. A dialogue that at the same
time is able to proclaim the truth, which the Church has received and
to which she must remain faithful. But always a dialogue and never an
imposition of her beliefs and methods. Propose, not impose. Serve, not
dominate. A Church that engages in dialogue with the modern world,
this is what Gaudium et spes outlines and promotes. A Church that,
taking up the mission of Jesus, is in the world, not to judge humanity
but to love it and save it (cf. Jn 3:16, 17).
An Historical Perspective and Gaudium
et Spes

Andrea Riccardi

It is not easy to speak of Gaudium et spes in an historical perspective.

One must choose between presenting a history of the drafting of the text
and presenting the historical perspective and the problems of the times
in which this text was produced. I shall say from the outset, and with
the risk of disappointing you, that my choice has fallen to the second
option. We already have available a vast and complete reconstruction of
how the document came about, thanks to Giovanni Turbanti. In more
than 700 pages, this author traces the complex and heated process of
drafting the text, from the Roman sketches, to the Rahner-Ratzinger
schema, to that of Malines, to the text of Ariccia, up to the conclusion of
Vatican II. The idea took shape in 1962 with the suggestion of a mes-
sage of the Council to the world, a proposal made by the Most Reverend
Guerry (and prepared, before the Council, by the Dominican Lebret,
who had an important role in Populorum progressio).1 One can easily
see how a summary of the 700 pages of the Turbanti work would have
presented no real difficulty, but such a summary on my part would
hardly have been a contribution to the question at issue. In the exten-
sive bibliography we must not forget the convention promoted by the
Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1995: on that occasion Cardinal
Hamer, who had been one of the experts at the Second Vatican Council,
offered a significant rereading of the process that produced Gaudium et

The literary genre of the text is new in the Magisterium: a Pastoral

Constitution on the contemporary world. Not sociological analysis, not
theology, but a “pastoral” text. The Church has not failed to make
statements on themes outside her specific competence, in a manner of

Andrea Riccardi is founder of International Catholic Lay Community Sant’Egidio.

G. Turbanti, Un Concilio per il mondo moderno. La redazione della costituzione
pastorale “Gaudium et spes” del Vaticano II, Il Mulino, Bologna p. 119.
Pontificio Consiglio per i Laici, Gaudium et spes. Bilancio di un trentennio, “Laici
oggi” 1996, n. 39. Laici oggi, 1996, 39.



speaking, such as occurs with her social doctrine starting with Rerum
novarum. Nonetheless, there is something new here. We can sense it in
Rahner’s article on the Constitution, published in 1966 and intended
almost to justify such an unusual text.3 Defining the Constitution as
“pastoral” (a word that has been somewhat over-used in the post-
conciliar period) reveals something new and an effort to be concrete.
But concrete in what manner? Many and varied are the aspects of the
modern world (and different interpretations are possible), such that it
appears difficult that Gaudium et spes should leave a single, unified
impression. How can we summarize it all and make a judgment? This
text does not arise, like a social Encyclical, from one authority who
issues it, but arises from the mediation of conciliar positions that are
different not only in theology but above all in the worlds from which
they come, such as those of the young prelate Karol Wojtyla, of Cardinal
Spellman of New York or of the Most Reverend Zoa of the Cameroon.

Why should we attempt such a risky undertaking? We find ourselves

at the crossroads between a movement that comes from afar and the
historical situation in which the Council takes place. This situation, I
shall say it quickly, is the bipolar world of the Cold War, which, how-
ever, has undergone changes with regard to the days of Stalin: for there
now appear to be some openings for the action of the Church. Such
seemed the case with John XXIII’s intervention in the serious Cuban
Missile crisis of 1962 between Kennedy and Kruschev. Moreover, the
movement of non-aligned nations has been active for ten years, and has
been broadened by the decolonization of the 1960s: did this represent a
new dialogue-partner for the Church beyond the East-West bipolarism?
The Holy See, from Pius XII but above all with John XXIII, had watched
the emergence of the New World with great attention, both with the
creation of autonomous episcopates and with the increase of diplomatic
missions. Was not significant space coming to be formed for the Church
in the social and political worlds of decolonized countries and of the
South? On the other hand, it seemed that beyond the frontiers of the
Cold War a movement aimed at the unification of the planet (this ex-
pression appears time and again in Gaudium et spes)4 was being ad-
vanced. This was also the case following McLuhan’s insights on the
world as a “global village”, where everything is seen and everything is

Rahner, La problematica teologica di una costituzione pastorale, in La Chiesa nel
mondo contemporaneo. Commento alla costituzione “Gaudium et spes”, a cura di E.
Giammancheri, Queriniana, Brescia 1966, pp. 61-83.
“Moving gradually together and everywhere more conscious already of its unity . . .”
(GS, 77).

easily obtained. There is found in the Constitution this sense of the

universal destiny of peoples, which comes from the ancient tradition of
the Church, but there is also found the perception that a process is
underway, a process that today we would call globalization. Was this
not the time of the Catholic Church, a community present among all
peoples and beyond the confines of civilizations? The Catholic Church
in fact felt called to interpret in depth the unification movement among
peoples, starting also with her self-awareness as the sacrament of unity
of the human race. On the other hand, progress—as was said, scientific
and technological development—placed instruments in the hands of
humanity such that it was possible to leave a profound mark on human
destiny, in the sense also of grave harm if not destruction: did not the
Church have the duty to speak out on this? Attention was paid to the
“signs of the times”, an attitude launched by John XXIII in Pacem in
terris, enthusiastically received by vast sectors of Catholicism. In
short, it seemed necessary to look to history and to contemporary life.

The push to speak out in this situation came from afar: from the fact
that, starting in the 1800s, the Church had refused to remove herself
(as had been suggested by a certain secular culture) from social ques-
tions and to yield to liberal and socialist thinking. Every pontificate,
sometimes in commemoration of Rerum novarum, had updated doc-
trine, repeating a constant theme: “the indispensable function that re-
ligion has in promoting social progress.”5 The Church does not yield,
affirms Gaudium et spes, “to a kind of mechanical course of the eco-
nomic activity of individuals, nor to the authority of government”: she
rejects “the guise of a false liberty” but also collectivism.6 In the con-
ciliar text, the break-through of Populorum progressio is prepared:
from social doctrine for industrial society to the social question as a
problem between the North and South of the world. In Gaudium et spes
one looks to the South of the world with a certain optimism (the opti-
mism of the 1960s, according to which the gap between the North and
the South could in part be overcome). There is a desire to suggest
guidelines for action aimed at development: a commitment of coopera-
tion on the part of rich countries (defined as a “grave duty”), the in-
vestment of undeveloped countries in the total human fulfillment of
their citizens, the coordination of the international community.7 The
development of the international community is one of the principal

A. Riccardi, La fortune d’une encyclique, in “Revue de deux mondes”, mai 1991, pp.
75-87, p. 85.
GS, 65.
GS, 86.

perspectives of the document, because only strong international insti-

tutions can guarantee peace and development. There is a constant in-
terest on the part of twentieth century Catholicism in building the
international community, with the accent placed on trust in interna-
tional organizations, desired by John XXIII with respect to Pius XII and
interpreted by Paul VI in his visit to the United Nations.

The Council made this appeal in the fight against poverty: “The
greater part of the world is still suffering from so much poverty that it
is as if Christ himself were crying out in these poor to beg the charity
of the disciples. Do not let men, then, be scandalized because some
countries with a majority of citizens who are counted as Christians
have an abundance of wealth, whereas others are deprived of the ne-
cessities of life and are tormented with hunger, disease, and every kind
of misery.”8

Gaudium et spes wishes to promote a movement towards the poor,

giving “not only out of what is superfluous but also from the substance
of one’s goods” (GS, 88). There is the echo of the group in favor of the
Church of the poor gathered at the Belgian College, inspired by Ghau-
tier. A volume, Church and Poverty, published in 1965 (with prefaces by
two important Council leaders, Cardinal Leccaro and the Melchite Pa-
triarch Maximos IV, and with contributions by Congar, Chenu, Viol-
laume, Loew) seeks to develop this awareness. It opens with an essay by
Father Cottier on the geography of poverty in the 1960s (which recalls
Josué de Castro’s well-known and contemporary geography of hunger)
and concludes with an invitation: “Is it not therefore the role of the
Church to call humanity to an immense crusade against misery, to
promote a general mobilization of spiritual and material energies for
the fight in which the dignity of our species is at stake?”.9 These are the
perspectives of the Church, which wants a kind of “Christian Bandung.”

Paul VI’s visit to India in 1964, with his appeal to invest in develop-
ment and divert funds from arms, had demonstrated this orientation.
Hunger and poverty—according to Cardinal Duval—open the way to
war.10 Gaudium et spes inseparably links the Church to the poor: the
poor who are nearby but also those far off who, with the unification of

GS, 88.
AA.VV, Chiesa e povertà, AVE, Roma 1968, p. 54.
Storia del concilio Vaticano II, diretta da G. Alberigo, vol. V Concilio di transizione.
Il quarto periodo e la conclusione del concilio (1965), Il Mulino, Bologna 2001, p. 188. In
questo senso anche il brasiliano don Larraìn, ivi, p. 185.

the world (today we would say globalization), can be seen and reached
by all. The articulated reflections of social doctrine, the charity of indi-
viduals, the fight against poverty, the witness of being close to the poor:
these are all aspects of the profound connection between the Church
and the poor, the roots of which are sunk deep in the Christian mystery.
This is the conviction that Father Congar expresses so well in 1965 in
the wake of Gaudium et spes: “The poor are the Church’s concern. They
are not merely her clients or those who benefit from her substance: the
Church cannot fully live her mystery if the poor are absent.”11

The Church of Gaudium et spes qualifies herself as an international

subject between North and South, with her eyes attentive to all the
situations in the world: everything concerns her, no situation is foreign
to her, she is involved everywhere. In geopolitical terms, we could say
that she has “imperialistic” interests for the world (that is, not limited
to one area). But faced with a world divided by two empires, Pius XII in
1946 had made a further qualification, using words to which the Vat-
ican II Church can subscribe: “The Church . . . is not an empire, above
all in an imperialistic sense. . . . Her progress and expansion are
marked on a path that is the opposite of that trod by modern imperi-
alism. She makes progress above all in depth”. Behind this original
vision there is the desire to belong to no country or civilization: the fight
against nationalisms, having become tragic in the two world wars that
seemed to overturn the Church’s position of impartiality, had made it
clear that all was lost with war and nothing was lost with peace. This
Church, persecuted in the Communist East, strove in the period follow-
ing the Second World War not to identify herself with Western civili-
zation. One is amazed to see in one of the notes of Gaudium et spes a
citation from the important 1936 convention of the French Social Weeks
(Semaines Sociales) held at Versailles, where discussion took place al-
ready at that time concerning the clash of civilizations (European, So-
viet, Islamic, Jewish, and so on). The indication at that time was that
the Church needed to transcend the borders of civilizations with the
universalism of the Gospel.12 Gaudium et spes affirms: “the Church by
her very universality can be a very close bond between diverse human
communities and nations”. It then adds: “the Church admonishes her
own sons, but also humanity as a whole, to overcome all strife between
nations and race in this family spirit of God’s children.”13

Chiesa e povertà, 286.
GS, 59, note 7.
GS, 42.

Here is placed the problem of peace and war, which occupies the last
chapter, the fifth, of the Constitution. The Council could not fail to
touch on a central theme for the Popes of the twentieth century, when
Catholics were strongly attracted by nationalistic passions. The Catho-
lic Church revealed her supranational character and took up the aspi-
rations for peace in the heart of conflicts. This action, with Benedict XV
and Pius XII, had known moments of disagreement: the polemics with
regard to the “silence” of Pius XII on the Shoah begin in 1963. John
XXIII’s work for peace had received general approbation: “However, one
would say that now, when the Pope speaks of peace, people stop to
listen”, Pope John XXIII had said to Monsignor Pavan.14 The Church,
in her twentieth century experience, was convinced of the perverse
effects of war: had not the First World War provided the bases for the
Second? And did not the Second leave the legacy of a divided world that
was still the case at the time of Vatican II?

War was to be strongly resisted. But the Vatican II Church had to

deal with the most diverse positions in this area: with pacifism, the
underlying rationale of which had never been completely taken up by
Catholicism, but which was not spurned either. She had to measure
herself against a realist pacifism, like that of Father Luigi Sturzo who,
between the two wars, wondered whether it was not possible, in a
progressive manner, to abolish war as an instrument for regulating
conflicts, as had been done with slavery. The brutality of war and the
use of violence especially on the part of totalitarian regimes had
strengthened the non-violent movements that had a point of reference
in Gandhi (and the theme of conscientious objection is to be placed in
this same context). On the other hand, one wondered how a State’s right
to legitimate defense in case of aggression, which had always been
recognized by Church doctrine, could be denied. The Council re-
launched two aspects of the papal Magisterium on war: the insistence
that total war represented something truly new and the progressive
restriction of the conditions for a “just war”.

But which war? The world conflict, which the Council Fathers speak
of as “total war”? The Cold War? The American Bishops raised under-
standable questions, whether a condemnation of atomic weapons would
not lead to a tendency of unilateral disarmament with regard to the
Soviet Union. Was it a question of civil wars, to which the Spanish
Bishops make reference, thinking of the 1930s? Was it a question of

A. Riccardi, Il potere del papa da Pio XII a Giovanni Paolo II, Laterza, Roma–Bari
1993, p. 192.

guerrilla warfare and wars of liberation, asks Ottaviani, which are

often used to impose an ideology?15 The Council has in mind the com-
plex morphology of war in the twentieth century. The stimuli, the situ-
ations, the answers are different. The conciliar text cannot fail to end
up being complex, but the whole is pervaded by a great concern for
peace: “All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation
of war with an entirely new attitude. The men of our time must realize
that they will have to give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war.”16

Differences remained concerning atomic weapons, but from the

Church’s history of the twentieth century there emerged a desire for
peace: “War must be absolutely prohibited”, declared Cardinal Ottavi-
ani (someone who was not in favor of new things) to applause in 1964.
Peace was one of the Church’s great objectives: “It is our clear duty,
therefore, to strain every muscle in working for the time when all war
can be completely outlawed by international consent” (GS, 81). This is
the ideal. The Church must work in the area of international relations
with her many different subjects (among other things, it is said in the
text that Catholic associations need to be strengthened, for these asso-
ciations “can contribute in many ways to the building up of a peaceful
and fraternal community of nations” (GS, 90). Paul VI, accompanied by
five cardinals representing the five continental areas, brings his mes-
sage of peace to the assembly of the United Nations with the slogan
“jamais plus la guerre (war never again).”

Peace and development are made realities with the involvement of

everyone, in a world where non-Catholics are the majority. Gaudium et
spes is for all people: non-Catholic Christians (on the part of whom Paul
VI brought a message to the U.N., also at the behest of Patriarch Ath-
enagoras); “all who acknowledge God, and who preserve in their tradi-
tions precious elements of religion and humanity”; humanists, “those
who cultivate outstanding qualities of the human spirit.”17 The diffi-
culty, as the theologian Giuseppe Colombo observes, is found precisely
in the universal destination of the text, and not in its being addressed
to other Churches or to other Christians. This is an innovative perspec-
tive, which was merely hinted at in the past. Pius XI, in the Encyclical
Caritate Christi of 1932, had invited believers of every religion to con-
front together the problem of atheistic Communism. John XXIII, in
addressing all “people of good will” with regard to peace and the social

Storia del concilio Vaticano II, cit., vol. V p. 188.
GS, 80.
GS, 92.

question, held that cooperation with non-believers or believers of other

religions was legitimate. The Council speaks not only with its magis-
terial authority, but with what Paul VI called the “experience of hu-
manity.” Christians and non-Christians alike share a common destiny
in a world marked by the need to live together: the people of God, says
the Constitution, “can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity
with, as well as its respect and love for, the entire human family with
which it is bound up” (GS, 3).

In this regard, Gaudium et spes advances the new method of “dia-

logue”, proposed by Paul VI in his programmatic Encyclical Ecclesiam
suam: “The Church becomes word; the Church becomes message; the
Church becomes dialogue,” the Pope wrote. But in the Encyclical, dia-
logue is staunchly connected to the renewed affirmation of the identity
of the Christian and of the Church, which is found in the first part of the
document and in the other texts of the Council. We must remember
(despite my desire to avoid looking at the contribution made to the text
by Karol Wojtyla), how this young prelate suggests the category of
“presence” for speaking of the Church in the world. There is undoubt-
edly a transition—which became enthusiastic in the years following the
Council—from a time marked by opposing positions (we can think of
that contrary to the communist world) to a period of coming closer
together, of cooperation and of dialogue. For Jacques Maritain, to whom
Gaudium et spes owes much (and to whom Pope Paul VI at the end of
the Council entrusts the message for intellectuals), this is “a kind of
kneeling down in front of the world that is manifested in a thousand
ways”: the error arises from the concept of “world”.

Paul VI had already raised the problem of the “world”: “The fact that
we are distinct from the world”, he says in Ecclesiam suam, “does not
mean that we are entirely separated from it. Nor does it mean that we
are indifferent to it, afraid of it, or contemptuous of it. When the Church
distinguishes herself from humanity, she does so not in order to oppose
it, but to come closer to it” (ES, 63). This opposing position relative to
the world was less real in concrete reality than it was said to be. Catho-
lics were very close to others on many different paths, and above all
they lived with others: from American society marked by religious plu-
ralism, to cooperation in Western Europe in the areas of politics and
unions, to the coexistence with other religions in Lebanon, to cite just a
few examples. It was necessary to give reasons for complex paths of
coexistence and cooperation that begin well before Vatican II. The word
“dialogue” offered a category in which one could think about these paths
that continued for decades.

The Constitution had an important significance: the overcoming of

contempt for the world, which, more than from an ascetic attitude aris-
ing from de comptentu mundi of Innocent III, arose from a kind of
minority or Manichaeistic flight, as Maritain says: “the pendulum sud-
denly swung to the opposite extreme, to an almost Manichaeistic con-
tempt for the world professed in the Christian ghetto”. Another aspect
is found here (which I cannot dwell upon), the use of the world, under-
stood as human and material resources: “Throughout the course of the
centuries, men have labored to better the circumstances of their lives
through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort . . .
this human activity accords with God’s will.”18 The reflections on the
economy—which, as Michel Novak noted in 1994, are obviously dated
because the economic world has undergone profound change since
196519—can be ascribed to this chapter. Nonetheless, certain instances
(such as the universal destination of the goods of the earth) represent
long-term affirmations that come from the far past and are destined to
remain. If the Constitution has been criticized because of a certain
optimism concerning development, I believe that the value seen in hu-
man work must also be attributed to this optimism: the commitment to
the prosperity of the human race (far removed from any Manichaeistic
contempt) is connected to peace.

Nonetheless, Gaudium et spes does not intend to be a Magna Carta of

the social involvement of the Church or of Catholics. It is not a social
catechism. We could speak of themes purposely not dealt with by
Gaudium et spes: the absolute condemnation of war and nuclear weap-
ons; communism; birth control (an intervention which Paul VI reserved
to himself and which he will make three years later in Humanae vitae).
We have already said something about the first theme: Gaudium et
spes has taken a step forward in limiting the possibilities for war, in
line with the twentieth century Magisterium, but it does not espouse
the position seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons. With regard to
communism, we take into account the condemnations particularly of
Pius XI and Pius XII (even if Benedict XV’s pragmatic attempt at ne-
gotiation between the Vatican and Soviet power, interrupted in 1926,
must not be forgotten). Atheism is treated at length in the document, its
oppressive forms are condemned (“they vigorously fight against reli-
gion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of
youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal”,

GS, 34.
M. Novak, L’etica cattolica e lo spirito del capitalismo, Edizioni di Comunità, Mi-
lano 1994, p. 82; pp. 159 ss.

(GS, 20). It is considered a serious human problem, it is sometimes also

seen as the fruit of the errors of believers; nonetheless, an offer of
prudent dialogue with it is made. An explicit condemnation of communism
is found only in a note of the text, which cites magisterial documents. In
reality, 454 Council Fathers had asked for the condemnation of commu-
nism and their request fell unceremoniously into the Council’s endless red
tape. This theme is of particular importance. John XXIII had begun a draft
of Eastern policies that Paul VI intended to continue. There is the more or
less explicit commitment with the Russian Orthodox Church (which sent
observers to Vatican II) to refrain from condemnations that could embar-
rass the Soviets. There is the desire to avoid a Council of condemnations,
as expressed by John XXIII in Gaudet mater ecclesia. The absence of
condemnations is a break with the general orientations of the twentieth
century, with the 1949 excommunication of Communists, with the denun-
ciation of the persecutions against what was called the “Church of silence”.
Cardinal Tisserant, a member of the Curia who was very attentive to the
danger of communism in the years following the war (he had met with
Metropolitan Nikodim to negotiate the Russian presence at the Council),
writes to Paul VI: “Anathemas have never converted anyone”. In Eccle-
siam suam, Paul VI had written: “The voice we raise against them is more
the complaint of a victim than the sentence of a judge” (ES, 101). In a
restricted meeting on the Constitution in the Pope’s study, “agreement is
made not to renew expressly the condemnation of communism, but to say
in the report that the errors of communism have already been con-
demned . . . and if the question is explicitly avoided for now, this is to avoid
political interpretations.”20

In the text we catch a fleeting glimpse—but I wish to underline it—of

the idea that this is a time of persecution for the Church, almost in the
sense of the new martyrs that Karol Wojtyla had already spoken of:
“Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue
to do so.”21 The statement is added afterwards: “The Church admits
that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of
those who oppose or who persecute her.”22 Karol Wojtyla, preaching
Paul VI’s 1976 spiritual retreat, observes: “We live in an era in which
the whole world proclaims freedom of conscience and religious freedom,
and also in an era in which the fight against religion, which is defined
‘the opium of the people’, is taken up in such a way so as not to create—
as far as possible—new martyrs”. He adds: “It also seems that the

G. Turbanti, Un Concilio per il mondo moderno, cit., pp. 774-775.
GS, 21.
GS, 44.

means most necessary for creating this ‘paradise on earth’ is found in

depriving man of the strength that he draws from Christ.”23 For Karol
Wojtyla it was important to demand religious freedom, convinced as he
was that communism was not humanism.

While I cannot touch here upon all the fundamental themes dealt
with in the Constitution, it would be sufficient to think of the family, to
which a first chapter is dedicated, considering it among the most urgent
problems (together with peace, culture, the economy and politics). I
underline only the fact that the reflections on the family lead to the
affirmation of a specific anthropological point of view of the Catholic
Church. In fact, with Gaudium et spes the Church places herself in line
with the central themes of world development. The Church—this
emerges from the Constitution—feels that she has a great contribution
to make to the modern world. Mention is made of the economy, solidar-
ity, even human rights (this is a theme that is forcefully re-proposed in
the first years of John Paul II’s pontificate). But, in this perspective, the
Church does not become a social agency. Significantly, in a note there
is a citation from Pius XI: “We must never lose sight of the fact that the
Church’s objective is to evangelize and not to civilize. If she civilizes it
is by means of evangelization”. We read in the Constitution: “The
Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims
the rights of man; she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic
movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet
these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and
protected against any kind of false autonomy.”24

Gaudium et spes represents a landing-place for the many questions

experienced in the twentieth century, with a text that cannot define
everything but that gathers together, makes connections and shines the
light of a perspective of the Church’s presence in the world. It would be
very interesting to see how the Constitution has been received. This is
a story that I do not have time to deal with here. Certainly, there was
an initial hot season, that of immediate reception permeated also by the
movement of 1968, criticized by Maritain as “kneeling down”, which
nonetheless shows the enthusiasm with which the document was re-
ceived: From Anathema to Dialogue, this was the title of a volume
published after the end of the Council, with texts of the theologian Metz
and of the Marxist Garaudy. There was a successive period in which the
Constitution was considered as not particularly radical or clear (as

K. Wojtyla, Segno di contraddizione, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 1977, pp. 217-218.
GS, 41.

Dossetti observes), and incapable of offering suitable solutions to the

world’s great problems; at the same time a traditionalist critique con-
siders it the Magna Carta of the reduction of the Church to an humani-
tarian agency. With John Paul II, Gaudium et spes becomes a platform
on which rests not only part of his teaching but above all the back-
ground of his action.

In fact, Gaudium et spes offers an historical perspective, or rather, the

historical perspective; in the vision of this document the Church de-
clares that she lives within the problems of history, that she is not
far-removed but is a companion: history is not only tradition but is also
contemporariness. Not everything can be said and Gaudium et spes
does not say or resolve everything: “It is an encyclopaedia!”, Paul VI
said to Haubtmann who showed him the draft in February 1965.25 The
structure of Gaudium et spes, beyond the individual discussions of the
various problems, remains a permanent intellectual and pastoral struc-
ture of Christian thought and life from the second half of the twentieth
century to the twenty-first century. It is no longer possible to speak of
the Church without raising the problems, the situations and the con-
texts of the modern world. It is the life-breath of a great Church that
knows she is not a small community closed in on herself, but that is also
aware of her duty to live with others who are religiously and culturally
different. We cannot speak of the Church without an historical perspec-
tive and a modern perspective. There is also an institutional conse-
quence in taking on the perspective of Gaudium et spes: the creation of
“Iustita et Pax” for an activity that is distinct from Vatican diplomacy
and different from the pastoral mission of other Curial offices. The
Church has become more actively involved in the modern world under
numerous aspects: not only pastorally, but also culturally; not only
politically, but also in the perspective of solidarity. She has shown the
profound connection between the Gospel and human freedom, but also
the real connection between the Gospel and human suffering, in that
intermingling of freedom and suffering, of dependence and aspiration
for freedom which is the modern world. At the end of 1965, Cardinal
Franziskus Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna and eminent active partici-
pant in the Council, held a conference in Rome on The Council and the
World’s Spiritual Powers in which he declared: “This Council has more-
over been . . . an example of spiritual freedom, such as would be sought
vainly in this world; also spiritually it was so uniform and well-
organized. There were no tabus in this Council; personal agendas were
absent; no question was avoided. . . . Where does there exist in the

G. Turbanti, Un Concilio per il mondo moderno, cit., p. 558 ss.

world an institution that can allow itself to engage in such free discus-
sion? Despite the sincerity, even in the tenacious support of opposing
concepts, unity was never placed in danger.”26

Some have emphasized how the political and social culture of

Gaudium et spes are now outdated. There have undoubtedly been tran-
sient elements in the language used to describe certain problems, but
the decisive backdrop remains: the Church in the perspective of our
history. This is a Church that deals with the history of peoples and
individuals in the awareness of being the bearer of a message. Maritain
understands well the conviction underlying the Pastoral Constitution:
“In the era that our civilization has attained, the Church will become
ever more . . . the refuge and support (perhaps the only refuge and
support) of the person.”27 Gaudium et spes was considered to be out-
dated in the course of just a few years; in reality, it is destined to a much
longer life than was thought. This is what Paul VI said to Father
Haubtmann, on 20 May 1965, when the drafting process of Gaudium et
spes was coming to its conclusion: “Much time is needed for things to
mature. In the day of the atomic bomb also, the one who gathers is not
the one who sows. Sometimes we would like to gather even without
having sown. Thus, some observers are gentler than in the first session,
but that’s normal; from their contact with us, they become aware of the
differences and vice-versa. What we do far surpasses our persons.”28

We are here to follow once more the path of this sowing!

F. Koenig, Il Concilio e le potenze spirituali del mondo, in “Studi Romani”, gennaio-
marzo 1966, pp. 1-16. Studi Romani, January-March 1966.
J. Maritain, Il contadino della Garonna, Morcelliana, Brescia 1977, p. 82.
G. Turbanti, Un Concilio per il mondo moderno, cit., pp 606.
Catholic Social Thought as Discernment

Johan Verstraeten

The pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes is a landmark in the de-

velopment of Catholic social teaching. It has not only confirmed and
developed the person-oriented approach introduced by Pope John XXIII
in Mater et magistra (1961), but it also has adopted his concept i segni
dei tempi or signa temporum1 (signs of the times) as a methodological
basis for the teaching of the magisterium: “The Church has always had
the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them
in the light of the Gospel.”2

Taking into account the authority of Gaudium et spes as pastoral

constitution of an ecumenical council, these words can be considered de
iure as the methodological point of departure for the further develop-
ment of the Church’s official social teaching and it has paved the way
towards a more open attitude in which social analysis and diversity of
contexts are taken into account.

The question, however, is whether this open method has become the
de facto heart of the matter, particularly when we take into consider-
ation the reinterpretation of Catholic social teaching by Pope John Paul
II as a “doctrine.” Despite his insistence on the unity of the vision the
answer might be positive.

In his social encyclicals, this Pope leaves no doubt about the nature of
the social teaching of the Catholic Church as belonging “to the field . . .
of theology and particularly of moral theology.”3 This theological in-

Johan Verstraeten is Professor of Moral Theology at Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven,

Belgium and cofounder of the International Association for Catholic Social Thought.

The text here was first published in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and
Culture, Volume 8, Number 3 (Summer, 2005) and is reprinted here with permission.
He used this expression for the first time in his apostolic constitution Humanae
Salutis announcing Vatican II on December 25, 1961; cf. A.A.S. 54 (1962), 12. It was
repeated as “signa temporum” in Pacem in terris no. 39.
Gaudium et spes, no. 4 (hereafter cited in text as GS).
John Paul II, Centesimus annus (1991), no. 55 (hereafter cited in text as CA, with
references to section numbers); John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987), no. 41
(hereafter cited in text as SRS, with references to section numbers).



terpretation is articulated in mainly two ways. First, by way of clari-

fying that the human person and his or her dignity have to be under-
stood in light of the redemption of humankind through Christ “whose
mystery of love and justice renews the earth.”4 This focus on the re-
demptive mode implies a greater pessimism with regards to the world
than was the case during the Second Vatican Council. Secondly, the
theological focus is present in the contention that the Church has to be
interpreted as a radical community of witness. But at least in one
regard, this theological turn, which has enriched and radicalized Catho-
lic social thought substantially, needs further clarification.

Although like his predecessors, John Paul II formally acknowledges

the role of analysis and of social sciences as “helpful for interpreting
man’s central place within society and for enabling him to understand
himself better as a ‘social being’ . . .” he also gives the impression to
interpret their role as quite secondary, since he immediately adds to his
acknowledgment that “man’s true identity is only fully revealed to him
through faith” and that “it is precisely from faith that the church social
teaching begins” (CA, 54).

Without further clarification this sola fide can easily be misinter-

preted. It urges us to elucidate again the methodological link between
theological interpretation and social analysis. The basic question in this
regard is: How can we ensure that the “faith” perspective does not end
up as an abstract “doctrine” disconnected from real life? The Pope him-
self is clearly aware of this problem in as far as he has repeatedly
confirmed that his teaching is not dealing with the “abstract” person,
but with the real, concrete, historical person. Due attention to the nu-
ances of the problem is necessary in order to avoid over-simplification
and to ensure that the complexities of the answer are adequately dealt

While it is fine for the Church to enunciate ethical principles and

inspiring ideals, it is also a challenge to bring those ideals to birth in the
concrete social, economic, and political circumstances of individuals

John Paul II, Redemptor hominis (1979), no. 9 (hereafter cited in text as RH, with
references to section numbers). I will not elaborate on this since I have worked it out in
other articles. See for example J. Verstraeten, “Solidarity and Subsidiarity,” in David A.
Bolieau, Principles of Catholic Social Teaching, Marquette Studies in Theology, 14
(Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1994), pp. 133-47.

and communities5 and to do this without neglecting the theological

meaning of discernment as articulated by Gaudium et spes. Indeed,
subtleties of mediation between these two are required. Classically,
they may take the form of either “middle level thinking” (based on an
articulation of the dignity of the human person and the common good in
terms of solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice)6 or the form of the three
mediations of liberation theology (socio-analytic, hermeneutic and prac-
tical mediation), which are an elaboration and radicalization of the “see,
judge, act” method. But whatever concrete form this mediation takes,
both cases require a more fundamental clarification about the particu-
lar meaning of Catholic social thought understood by Vatican II as

I will try to demonstrate that despite John Paul II’s use of the term
“doctrine,” there is still an understanding of Catholic social teaching
possible as social discernment. It is possible to do this by linking his
social teaching to the broader tradition of thought and action of which
his teaching is a particular articulation.7 By way of reinterpreting and
reconnecting the teaching of John Paul II to the broader methodological
framework opened by Vatican II, I assume the duty of the moral theo-
logian to be an “agent of memory” who links the present to a significant
past—the “shared understandings” of which risk becoming marginal-
ized today.

The Primacy of Social Witness

Many comments on Centesimus annus have mainly focused on the

Pope’s opinion about the fall of communism or his innovative approach
to capitalism or both. But most commentators have overlooked one of
the most notable statements John Paul II has ever made: “The Church
is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately
from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and

Vivian Boland, review of Jonathan S. Boswell, Frank P. McHugh, Johan Ver-
straeten, Catholic Social Thought: Twilight or Renaissance? (Leuven: Peeters/
University Press, 2000), p. XVII.
Middle level thinking is the reflection with which one connects Christian anthro-
pology and general notions of complex solidarity, subsidiarity, justice, and options for
the poor to ideas for policy. Cf. Boswell, McHugh, and Verstraeten, introduction to
Catholic Social Thought: Twilight or Renaissance p. XVII.
Although I talk here about the methodological option of Vatican II, this does not
mean that discernment can be reduced to a “method,” it is more a fundamental attitude
of incarnated faith life that seeks to understand its implications for real life as well as
the challenges experienced in life for faith.

consistency.” This awareness, he continues, “is a source of her prefer-

ential option for the poor” (CA, 57).

The focus on action and witnessing characterizes the whole of John

Paul II’s social teaching. Since the beginning of his pontificate and
particularly in his encyclicals Redemptor hominis and Dives in mi-
sericordia, he has continuously pleaded for a revitalization of the role of
the Church as a community of witness, a community that is not simply
a defender of abstract truths about the human person, but a living body
of Christ, whose mission it is to be of service to the world (RH, 13), and
to make human life on earth “more human” in all its aspects (RH, 15).
Despite his reintroduction of the term doctrine, he is confirming the
basic intuition of Gaudium et spes according to which Catholic social
thought is an articulation of the historical and practical response of the
Church to “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men
[people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way af-
flicted” (GS, 1).

Catholic social thought is, indeed, a theoretical reflection as articu-

lation of the transformative presence of the Church in the world. Before
any abstract reasoning, there is a commitment to life and humanity,
and the embodiment of this commitment in real acts is the litmus test
of the credibility of the Church’s social teaching.

The General Synod of Bishops on Justice (1971) has interpreted this

radically in terms of “action on behalf of justice and participation in the
transformation of the world” as a “constitutive dimension of the preach-
ing of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the
redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive
situation.”8 It has been confirmed in a more nuanced way by Evangelii
nuntiandi (1975)—so often quoted by John Paul II—and even recently
by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church issued by the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (2004).

Any project aimed at understanding the nature of Catholic social

thought must start from the historical presence of millions of Chris-
tians in the world operating through a cluster of social movements,

Synod of Catholic Bishops, Justice in the World, 1971, section 6. Misunderstandings
about these words have led to a reinterpretation of the link between action for justice
in terms of “profound links” in Evangelii nuntiandi. The misunderstanding was, how-
ever, not caused by the original text but by its translation in German and Dutch in
which constitutive was interpreted as “essential.”

charitable institutions, and actions for justice. Their commitment to the

humanization of the world and the common good starts (or should start)
from the experience of the poor, the excluded, the exploited, the unem-
ployed, the victims of direct or structural violence—all the women and
men whose cry for justice and peace is often not heard by the powers of
the world, and whose basic needs are often not met by merciless mar-
kets or corrupt state bureaucracies.

One of the most striking characteristics of movements involved in the

development of Catholic social thought is their amazing diversity. They
represent a variety of forms: from Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker
Movement to the organizers of the meeting of the other globalists in
Porto Alegre; from grassroots movements in rural areas to social work-
ers in the slums of the big cities; from people who give assistance in
refugee camps of Eastern Africa to participants in the empowerment
movements of the Dalit in India; from care centers for the homeless in
New York City to trade union activists in Korea; from the peace efforts
of Pax Christi to diplomatic breakthroughs by new communities such as
Sant Egidio; from groups arguing for debt relief to groups reflecting
upon job creation or sustainable development; from the European social
movements to the American Center of Concern; from Catholics involved
in the development of professional ethics or business to Catholics who
criticize the power of the professions and of multinational corporations.
In and through a wide variety of social movements, as well as via the
participation of Catholics in humanizing secular movements, Catholi-
cism reveals the best of itself. The end result is that the Catholic social
tradition is more than a collection of official documents and even more
than a tradition of thought. As the real history of social movements
show, it “includes the prophets and activists, thinkers and analysts who
wrestled with the meaning of Christian faith amid turbulent social

This wrestling in order to detect the theological meaning of emerging

history is a matter of discernment and the starting point of a reflection
by theorists and scholars who try to understand and articulate the
experience and concerns of the movements in light of official Catholic
social teaching, the Gospel, and social sciences. This reflection is “non-

Marvin L. Krier Mich, Catholic Social Teaching and Movements (Mystic, CN:
Twenty-Third Publications, 2000), p. 1.

official Catholic social thought” that together with the official teaching
constitutes the social tradition of the Catholic Church.10

Discernment and Scrutinizing the Signs of the Times

Starting from the Church’s insertion in the process of transformation

of the world, Gaudium et spes has adequately assessed the Catholic
social teaching as discernment. In this regard, the words “scrutinizing
the signs of the times and interpreting them in light of the Gospel” are

Scrutinizing and understanding the signs of the times does not start
from an abstract or apparently ‘neutral’ perspective, because social dis-
cernment is based on a commitment: being linked “with humankind
and its history by the deepest of bonds” (GS, 1), the people of God is
called to contribute to the humanization of the world in view of the
coming of the kingdom of God. But this is not an easy task, since it
confronts the Church with the real ambivalence of history—a history
characterized by both positive trends and destructive developments, by
a tension field between life-giving forces and tendencies leading to a
culture of death. Such positive developments can be soteriologically
confirmed and articulated as signs of the times anticipating the king-
dom of God, which is on earth “already present in mystery” (GS, 48).
But what does such an interpretation of particular tendencies as signs
of the times mean? The first task is negative and critical, since negative
tendencies must be unmasked (see point 4 on semantic vigilance). The
second task is positive, since developments that really contribute to
more humanity can be interpreted as significant indicators of the com-
ing of the kingdom of God.

In both cases, theological interpretation must be mediated by careful

analysis and ethical reflection. Judgements on the world cannot be
merely made on the basis of faith alone.11 Indeed as a “continuing
learning process” (Nell Breuning), social discernment requires both so-
cial analysis and an interpretation of the facts in the light of the Gospel.

For an elucidation of the relation between catholic social thought and catholic
social teaching see Johan Verstraeten, “Rethinking Catholic Social Thought as Tradi-
tion,” in Boswell, McHugh, and Verstraeten, Catholic Social Thought: Twilight or Re-
naissance?, pp. 59-78. Author: Again, please confirm the text we have inserted here.
For a reflection on this problem see Johan De Tavernier, “Eschatology and Social
Ethics,” in Louis Janssens, Joseph A. Selling, and Franz Böckle, Personalist Morals:
Essays in Honor of Professor Louis Janssens (Leuven: Peeters/University Press, 1988),
p. 279-300.

Without the perspective of faith, social analysis lacks depth or it runs

the risk of being disturbed by ideological biases.12 This is as important
as acknowledging that without social analysis the faith perspective
loses touch with reality or leads to the construction of a world of pious
ideas, which is more an expression of social alienation than a solution
to it. Indeed, “a vision must track the contours of reality; it has to have
accuracy, and not simply imagination or appeal,”13 but it must remain
a vision.

One of the most significant articulations of the role of social analysis

is Octogesima adveniens no. 4 in which Pope Paul VI acknowledges the
impossibility of uttering as pope a unified message in which he would
put forward a solution that (as the text literally says) would be “in
congruity with all local situations” (qua solutio, omnibus locus congru-
ens, proponatur). His response to that problem is clear: It is up to the
Christian communities [a clear reference to the integral ecclesiology of
Lumen Gentium chapter II] to analyze (perscrutentur) with objectivity
the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light
of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection
(principia cogitandi), norms of judgment (iudicandi normas) and direc-
tives for action (regulas operandi) from the social teaching of the
Church. . . . It is up to these Christian communities [in other words, it
is not only the task of the magisterium or of bishops’ conferences, al-
though in communion with them], with the help of the Holy Spirit, in
communion with the bishops who hold responsibility and in dialogue
with other Christian brethren and all men of good will [ecumenical
perspective and open attitude towards secular movements], to discern
(discernere) the options and commitments which are called for in order
to bring about the social, political and economic changes seen in many
cases to be urgently needed. The last sentence confirms again how
much Catholic social thought is practical. It is not a self-referential
theory but a method responding to real needs and aiming at real his-
torical change. This change requires an analysis guided by the triad of
“principles, norms, and directives.”

But as was already pointed out, analysis in itself is not sufficient. As

much as social analysis is required to complete judgements made in
faith, so a faith perspective is needed to complete social analysis. What
does an “interpretation in the light of the Gospel” mean in this regard?

Cf. Octogesima adveniens, no. 38-40.
Cf. Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership without Easy Answers (Cambridge, MA: The
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 24.

In the Light of the Gospel: The Role of Narrative and Vision

Biblical stories, and particularly the Gospel are more than a reservoir
of citations that can be used as illustration of moral insights. They are
also more than texts that are a sort of historical testimony of Christian
thinking in the first stage of its development, as MacIntyre suggests.14
On the contrary, Christian social movements as well as Catholic social
thought have a living hermeneutic relationship with biblical texts.
Their commitment is even rooted in a continuing remembrance of the
biblical narratives in liturgy or memorializing celebration. As Karen
Lebacqz put it, “If the story is not told, justice will die.”

In order to elucidate the implications of this living relationship to the

texts of the bible in general and to the gospel in particular, we can refer
to a most interesting answer given by Pope John Paul II himself, de-
spite his rather restrictive interpretation of the method of Gaudium et
spes in Sollicitudo rei socialis as an “accurate formulation [by the mag-
isterium of the Church] of the results of a careful reflection on the
complex realities of human existence.” In the same context (SRS, 41), he
demonstrates a clear understanding of what the semantic innovation
through interpreting biblical texts means, more precisely by contending
that Catholic social teaching possesses not only the task of condemning
actual injustices in the light of an adequately understood concept of
human dignity but also of proclaiming a meaningful new future (SRS,

Indeed, something new is announced—a vision that opens our closed

hermeneutic horizon, a vision that stimulates our imagination and al-
lows us to discover new and unexpected possibilities for change. This is
not simply from our own perspective, but from the perspective of God.
To put it in the words of one of the martyrs of our time, Archbishop
Romero, “We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”15

This visionary aspect does not mean (as Elsbernd and Bieringer
rightly contend) that the Church proposes something completely for-
eign to human experience. On the contrary, since the vision is “already
present in human longings, desires, and hopes.”16 In a pre-reflexive

My interpretation of Paul Ricoeur is mainly influenced by Alain Thomasset, Paul
Ricoeur, Une poétique de la morale (Leuven: Peeters/University Press, 1996).
Mary Elsbernd, Reimund Bieringer, When Love is Not Enough: A Theo-Ethic of
Justice (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), p. 156 note 20.
Ibid. 155.

way, it is suggested by way of negative contrast experiences. These are

experiences in which the negativity implicitly suggests something of
the dream of what is or ought to be human.

But this requires a further articulation in a more substantial vision,

as well as an understanding according to which the vision is not only a
confirmation of what we already know about ourselves—it also pro-
duces something new. There is semantic innovation. The dialectic of the
already known and not yet known is particularly present in the biblical
metaphors (also in their predicative form of stories), which do not only
express what people experience but also suggest new meanings and
new perspectives on reality.17 The biblical narratives offer “generative
metaphors” that contribute to a vision about the not yet.18 This vision
reveals the paradoxical character of social discernment: the Church
functions as sacramentum mundi, as an inspiring and healing force in
the concrete history of women and men, in so far as on the one hand, she
is fully connected with the world, and on the other hand, she marks a
difference by way of interrupting time-bound hermeneutic schemes
(particularly by way of proclaiming new life). To put it in the words of
Elsbernd and Bieringer: “vision is not an extension of present possibili-
ties into the future, but rather the future reaching out to meet the
present as an annunciation of something more or as a disjunction from
what is.”19 One of the consequences is that there will always be an
inevitable creative friction between vision as source of renewal and
reality. One could even say more: precisely because the Christian vision
(although not alien to human experience) is different from merely secu-

Biblical stories do not simply tell us something about the past, they open a new
world of meaning and make a semantic and practical innovation possible. Particularly,
the metaphors play a crucial role here. They not only function on the denominational
level of words, but also as predicative metaphors: they function on a level of predication
in the broader context of sentence or text. As such, biblical narratives function as
metaphors. Together with extravagant and eccentric elements, they create a meta-
phoric tension between everyday life and the extravagant world of the narrative (cf.
Paul Ricoeur).
In order to understand stories and metaphors, particularly the biblical ones, Chris-
tians need not only to be initiated into reading the bible but into reading texts in
general. In order to learn to discover new meaning one must learn to interpret and
disclose texts, which is a matter, not of memorizing facts about texts or their authors,
but of initiation in the art of reading. Therefore, courses on literature and on how to
interpret reality and enrich our imagination are, as Martha Nussbaum has demon-
strated in Poetic Justice, more necessary than ever. Without initiation in literature, the
closing of the mind becomes a real danger in a world in which language, in general,
becomes so impoverished by instrumental rationality and utility criteria that life itself
loses meaning, since we are language animals.
Elbernd, Bieringer, When Love is Not Enough, p. 156.

lar interpretations of reality, it is capable of semantically enriching

secular thinking. In this regard, Charles Curran’s thesis about a dual
audience in Catholic social thinking is not fully adequate. He makes a
distinction between Christian communities and the secular world. In
the first case, the community of Christians can express its own distinc-
tiveness and refer to the Gospels; in the second case, a more general and
rational language can and must be used.20 Far from denying the utility
and necessity of a universal language or of one or other form of natural
law thinking (including a human rights discourse), one cannot prevent
such a dualization from making it impossible to assess the particular
challenge that Christian thinking can be for a secular society, as a
source of semantic and practical innovation. Insights that are universal
and thus valid for each are not unhistorical, as if they were merely a
matter of abstract and “thin” principles. The universal gets continuous
meaning from particular traditions that provide the thin categories
with meaning. What today is not yet considered as “universal,” can
become universally acknowledged as reasonable under the influence of
an enriched understanding of our own humanity via the semantic and
practical innovation stimulated by our hermeneutic relation to narra-
tive texts. In this perspective, it is precisely through the distinctiveness
of her social vision that the Church realizes her universality, as the
following examples illustrate:

• Palliative care, as a completion of the normal medical treatment of

terminally ill patients, is now acknowledged generally as a valid
and meaningful practice, although it originally was generated in a
faith context.
• New practices in diplomacy, based on a Christian vision of recon-
ciliation are successfully practiced and have ended hopeless con-
flicts such as the civil war in Mozambique. What twenty years ago
was unthinkable is now generally acknowledged by scholars as a
meaningful innovation of classic diplomacy.21
• Non-combatant immunity. An interesting example is the reflection
of Grotius in De Iure Belli ac Pacis.22 According to this father of

Charles Curran, Catholic Social Teaching, 1891–Present: A Historical, Theological
and Ethical Analysis (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002) Ibid., p. 49.
Cf. Luc Reychler, “Religion and Conflict,” in International Journal of Peace Studies
2 no. 1 (1997): pp. 19-38 and R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred. Religion,
Violence and Reconciliation (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).
I follow here the description of Grotius thought by James Turner Johnson, Ideol-
ogy, Reason and the Limitation of War: Religious and Secular Concepts, 1200-1740
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 222-26.

international law, there seems to be in “nature” (before Christian-

ity) very few restraints on the prosecution of war against non-
combatants. “Enemies,” including women and children, may be
taken prisoner and any prisoner may be killed (with one exception
imposed by the jus gentium: they may not be put to death by poi-
son). The winner has the right to decide about life and death just
like a master decides about his slaves. But what “nature” allows is
not Grotius’s last word: In the Christian world, charity commands
to temper violence and to behave more humanely. Some elements of
moderation are also present in the jus gentium and in other reli-
gions, but Christianity brings to perfection what is present in im-
perfect form in their war ethics. On the one hand, Grotius main-
tains a distinction between the requirement of charity and the
reasonability of modesty (or as Grotius says, “moderation”). Via
charity, nature is made more perfect, and charity generates a spe-
cial sensitivity to the dictates of nature (a sensitivity that only
those who have charity possess). But on the other hand, the re-
quirement to moderate violence is accessible to all men through the
conscientious use of right reason. Thus, in a certain sense one could
say that, despite the formal distinction between the requirements
of charity and reason, charity commands what every reasonable
person finally will accept as the most reasonable option.

These examples demonstrate that Christian ideas and practices can

be the source of universal ideas and practices, even though they appear
at first glance as particular. In this regard, the kenotic vision of human
dignity in the light of the cross can acquire a universal meaning. Re-
nouncing your own rights in order to make room for the rights of others
is not an obvious attitude. Nevertheless, as Klaus Demmer argues, the
perspective of the cross can lead to a better understanding of the human
person and his or her universal nature “under the conditions of a
kenotic existence.”23

The story of the suffering of Christ also urges us to see with new eyes
and to look at the achievements of markets or political powers from the
perspective of the victims of history. It enables us to acknowledge, as
the French bishops wrote, that “society has the face of its victims” and

Klaus Demmer, “Naturrecht und Offenbarung,” in Franz Furger, Marianne
Heimbach-Steins, Andreas Lienkamp, and Joachim Wiemeyer (Hrsg.), Brennpunkt
Sozialethi: Theorien, Aufgaben, Methoden (Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany: Herder,
1995), p. 42.

this face is real. In this regard, the option for the poor, understood as a
particular commitment of the Church to see things from the side of the
poor and to assess lifestyles, policies, and social institutions in terms of
their impact on the poor, gets universal meaning. It opens the eyes of
the world to a forgotten dimension of human life; it contributes to a
more universal consciousness of what it means to be humane.

This is of the utmost importance for one of the often neglected carriers
of the social commitment of the Church—universities. Even in a culture
of functional differentiation and disconnection between the different
scientific disciplines, there must be something that orients the disci-
plines again to their fundamental end: contributing to making the
world more human. Universities need a vision on the dignity of the
human person, based not only on what the sciences or philosophy teach
but also on the kenotic understanding of it in the light of the Gospel.
This understanding mobilizes imagination, moves beyond fragmenta-
tion, reconnects, and leads to building a human future—not merely
designed for self-interest, but for the common good. It produces inspi-
ration for research in the field of job creation, rethinking the interna-
tional monetary system, alleviating poverty, rethinking intellectual
property in light of the common destination of the goods, and so on. For
departments of economics, social sciences, and business there is plenty
of work to do in that regard.

Semantic Vigilance

Catholic social thought not only produces semantic innovation but

also a semantic vigilance: it adopts a critical attitude towards all sorts
of perversion of meaning. By disclosing a different hermeneutic horizon,
powerful enough to break open the narrow hermeneutic horizon of the
time in which we live, biased or ideological interpretations and misrep-
resentations of reality can be unmasked, such as misrepresentations
flowing from the dominance of instrumental rationality, disconnection,
mental walls, and the bifurcation of the world in terms of a clash of

One of the most urgent tasks in this regard is to challenge dominant

root-metaphors that disturb an adequate perception of the world. The
biblical root-metaphors that inspire Catholic social thought as theoret-
ical reflection are a most useful tool in this regard. Root-metaphors are
the most basic assumptions used to depict the nature of the world,
society or experience:

The function of the root-metaphor is to suggest a primary way of looking at things

or experience, and this way of looking at things assists us in building categories or
in creating art forms that will express this insight. Our very notion of what is true
and what is meaningful rests upon our underlying assumptions about the nature
of reality. Without such assumptions knowledge would be impossible, for we would
have no way of organising our perceptions into a coherent whole.24

A shift of metaphors implies a change in our perception of life and


For example, the Gospel inspires us to shift from the image of the
invisible hand as root-metaphor for a society based on collective indi-
vidualism (Robert Bellah), to the image of an invisible handshake, as
root-metaphor of a society based on solidarity and justice. Such a new
imagination leads to a fundamental reinterpretation of social theories
and traditions such as the human rights tradition, which, as David
Hollenbach has elucidated, can be transformed from a tradition based
on the claims of individuals into a tradition that defends human rights
as basic conditions for life-in-community-with-others.25

One of the most powerful perspectives in this regard is again the

Cross—Calvary hangs over all of history. The memoria passionis opens
our eyes to the tragedies of history. It warns against all sorts of aes-
thetic minimization of suffering (such as talking about minimal collat-
eral damage caused by smart bombs or using words such as peace
shields and nuclear “umbrella’s” that suggest something else than the
cruel reality) or against a too optimistic and too linear interpretation of
history. It urges us to pay not only attention to success stories, but also
to the depths of human suffering into which our societies can descend;
it warns against utopian ideas that can lead to catastrophic and irre-
versible decisions26 or to centuries (such as the twentieth century) that
are comparable with a road littered with corpses.27 The dangerous
memory of the Cross (which also opens as redemptive power a danger-
ous future, cf. Metz) finally urges the Church to fight against perver-
sions of memory. It shapes a prophetic company of critics who remain

Ibid., pp. 94-95.
David Hollenbach, “A Communitarian Reconstruction of Human Rights,” in R. B.
Douglass, David Hollenbach, Catholicism and Liberalism: Contributions to American
Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 127-50.
Cf. Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1984).
Cf. Peter Toole, Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo (London: SCM, 2001).

vigilant with respect to meanings that risk being perverted by the logic
of the market or technology.

Semantic vigilance vis-à-vis false representations of reality or ideolo-

gies makes us also vigilant vis à vis the influence of these ideologies on
Catholic social teaching or Catholic social thought itself. Without a new
imagination (inspired by deep remembrance or mediated by biblical
texts and narratives), the Church—like any other establishment—runs
the risk of becoming caught in the illusions of a certain era, in a mind
blocking status quo thinking or even of becoming the guardian of the
“established disorder” thinking and its legitimizations. This is the case
when one tries to “hijack” Catholic social thought in order to use it as an
instrument in service of particular interests (such as using it as a new
ideological framework for capitalism or any other sort of ideology). Such
an instrumentalization neglects the normativity of God’s future. We
even need semantic vigilance vis à vis scientific research.

In this context, Catholic social thought can become a source of critical

resistance against ideologies and biases that invade the university as
an institution of research and education. This is, for example, the case
when one treats a university as if it were nothing else than just another
business organization or where fundamental research is neglected in
view of immediate utility or where education and research are sub-
jected to the instrumental rationality of the market (cf. Josef Pieper’s
term “proletarization of the intellectual” or the term “Taylorization of
knowledge”). Against such tendencies, Christians can influence univer-
sities so that they become again centers of resistance, refusing any
attempt to erode the meaning of a university as such. From a pedagogic
view, universities can cease to be “education industries” and become
centers of “life-enabling education” in which future professionals are
prepared for a life in service of society.28


Gaudium et spes makes us aware that the words “scrutinizing the

signs of the times” and “interpreting them in the light of the Gospel”
imply that Catholic social teaching is more than an abstract doctrine.
Starting from the experience of movements and as a result of a funda-
mental process of discernment, it can be an indispensable source of
inspiration and critical thinking, leading even in an academic context to

See Robert Bellah et al., The Good Society (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1991), ch. 5.

“educated attention to real needs of people and to a disciplined sensi-

bility to human suffering.”29 So Catholic social thought can inspire
people at all levels of society to think differently and to act differently,
knowing that a renewal of the earth ultimately depends on the con-
scious choices and commitments of individuals and institutions that
practice their faith in the world. Such a perspective in no way contra-
dicts the vision of John Paul II about the Church as a community of

Cf. Michael Buckley, “The Search for a New Humanism: The University and the
Concern for Justice,” in The Catholic University as Promise and Project: Reflections in
a Jesuit Idiom (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998). See also Johan
Verstraeten, “L’enracinement spirituel de la citoyenneté. Un défi pour les universités
catholiques”, in Vincent Engel, L’université européenne, acteur de citoyenneté (Louvain-
la-Neuve: Bruylant, 1999), pp. 99-113.
Gaudium et Spes and Catholic
Higher Education

Justin Cardinal Rigali

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,1 pro-

mulgated on December 7, 1965, the last day of the Second Vatican
Council was indeed a great gift of the Council to the Church and to the
world. And I would add: it was a special gift to Catholic higher educa-
tion. This is so, I believe, because so much of the content of Gaudium et
spes is linked to the aims of Catholic higher education and to what
Catholic Universities are meant to be about. Therefore, I would like to
present Gaudium et spes in its relevance to Catholic higher education.

So much of the flavor of this document is already present in the first

sentence which reads: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxi-
eties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any
way afflicted, are also the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the
followers of Christ.”

This is a very lofty vision which, while expressing the outreach of the
Church to the world, also can suggest the power of Catholic higher
education to have a bearing on whatever intimately affects humanity. It
shows to what degree the Council envisioned solidarity with all people.
In this document the Church was proposing to speak to the world and
to all humanity. She was proposing to tell the world how she conceives
her own presence and activity in the midst of the world. At the same
time the Church spelled out so much of what Catholic higher education
can so appropriately reflect upon, aspire to and help bring about.

What is immediately apparent in the document is the continuity of its

teaching. Much of its social content echoes the teaching of Leo XIII,
Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII, especially the latter famous encyc-

Justin Cardinal Rigali is Archbishop of Philadelphia.

This text is from a lecture presented at Villanova University on September 26, 2005 and
is reprinted here with permission.

Vatican II, 1965. Gaudium et spes (GS).



licals Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris. It is worth noting that the
teaching of Gaudium et spes was so vigorously proclaimed and applied
by Pope John Paul II during all the years of his pontificate. The docu-
ment proposed to speak to all people in order to shed light on what it
called the mystery of man. It was all about the human person, the
individual, the community, the entire human family. It was concerned
in cooperating to find true and just responses to the enormous chal-
lenges of our time, to the outstanding needs of our brothers and sisters.
Is not Catholic higher education and all university life deeply involved
in this?

It is useful to recall the document’s two main divisions. Part I: The

Church and Man’s Calling. Part II: Some More Urgent Questions.

A general glance at the outline confirms an affinity with themes of

Catholic higher education. The four chapters of Part I show this: 1) the
dignity of the human person 2) the community of mankind 3) human
activity throughout the world and 4) the mission of the Church in the
modern world.

The same can be said of the five urgent questions treated in Part II:
1) the dignity of marriage and the family 2) the proper development of
culture 3) socio-economic life 4) the life of the political community and
5) the promotion of peace and the community of peoples.

The first important question treated in the document is the dignity of

the human person. This is basic to everything else in the document,
everything else in the Church and in university life. This is presumed
in everything that follows. Vatican II sees this dignity of the human
person as being linked to the fact that the human person is created by
God, redeemed by Christ and called to communion with God for all
eternity. This was one of the favorite themes of John Paul II for the
twenty-six and a half years of his pontificate. He was constantly in-
spired by this conciliar vision. In season and out of season, he pro-
claimed the dignity of the human person.

Linked to the dignity of the human person, however, are the ever
relevant questions of conscience and human freedom. Gaudium et spes
describes conscience, saying: “In the depths of his conscience, man de-
tects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which he is
bound to obey. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the
voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifi-
cally: Do this. Shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God.
To obey it is the very dignity of man. According to it he will be judged”

(GS, 16). If obedience to conscience is part of human dignity, then re-

flecting on it must touch the realm of Catholic universities.

Intimately linked to the theme of conscience is that of freedom. The

Council insists that the dignity of the human being demands that he or
she act according to a knowing and free choice, which excludes “new
forms of social and psychological slavery” (no. 4). In effect, God wanted
the human being to be able to say no precisely so that his or her yes
would be authentic and meritorious. The dignity of the human person
demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice. Gaudium
et spes recognizes authentic freedom as “an exceptional sign of the di-
vine image within man” (GS, 80).

Two other themes that vex the human spirit are likewise considered
in this first chapter that concentrates on the human person: the ques-
tion of death with its perennial mystery and the issue of atheism. The
Council asserts that atheism must be counted among the more serious
problems of this age and is deserving of closer examination. A key
statement is found in Gaudium et spes 22, as Gaudium et spes relates
its Christology to the human being with this bold assertion: The truth
is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of
man take on life; It gives a reason for this statement, adding: “By his
Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with
every human being.”

The vision of human dignity presented in chapter one is enlarged in

chapter two to take into account the community of mankind, which is
the family of God. Here the Council’s insights are deep and ever rel-
evant. It says: “One of the salient features of the modern world is the
growing interdependence of people on each other, a development very
largely promoted by modern technological advancements” (GS, 23). It
goes on to explain, however, that authentic dialogue among people does
not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress but on the
deeper level of interpersonal relationships. Here the Council is empha-
sizing the communitarian nature of the vocation of human beings as
one family. It is speaking of the interdependence of individuals and
society, with the goal of all social institutions remaining the human
person. Human interdependence grows more tightly and the notion of
the common good takes on an increasingly universal complexion involv-
ing rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. This in-
terdependence and common good speak to us of the whole notion of
universal solidarity.

Later on in Gaudium et spes we will find a remarkable text about the

truth of our identity as human beings. It states: “We are witnesses of

the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by
his responsibility to his brothers and sisters and toward history”
(GS, 55). I submit that the birth of a new humanism is very much con-
nected, whenever it occurs, with the activities of Catholic universities,
and that the “new humanism” of Vatican II—the humanism of solidar-
ity, indeed of being defined in relationship to others, must be an evan-
gelical guiding light for the orientation of all Catholic higher education.
What great dignity, what great responsibility, what a great mission is
entrusted to the human person! And what service the university can
fulfill in being a herald of this “new humanism”!

In 1987, in continuity with Gaudium et spes, Pope John Paul II amply

developed the theme of solidarity and the act proper to it, which is
collaboration, in his encyclical letter Sollicitudo rei socialis. Included in
Gaudium et spes there had also been a splendid treatment of reverence
for the human person. This emphasis by Vatican II was subsequently
developed magnificently by John Paul II in his encyclical the Gospel of
Life and in many other documents. Meanwhile, Gaudium et spes had
given us a summary of what is opposed to this human dignity. It says:
“Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide,
abortion, euthanasia or willful self destruction; whatever violates the
integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on
body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human
dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment,
deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as
well as disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as mere
tools for profit rather than as free and responsible persons; all of this
and the like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they
do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from
the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator” (GS,

It was also to be expected that in speaking about human dignity and

the essential equality of people the Council would reject “every type of
discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race,
color, social condition, language, or religion” (GS, 29). Certainly every
Catholic university must in every way possible bear evangelical witness
to this essential equality.

The Council complained that fundamental personal rights are not yet
universally honored as in “the case of a woman who is denied the right
and freedom to choose a husband, to embrace a state of life or to acquire
an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men”
(GS, 29).

Vatican II spoke intriguingly (cf. Part I, chapter 3) about the Church’s

religious and moral principles that derive from the heritage of God’s
word, but which do not always have at hand the solution to particular
problems. Gaudium et spes admits clearly that it does not offer ready-
made solutions to the many problems of the world, but rather sees the
Gospel as the guide and source of principles that will respond to the
issues of the modern world (GS, 33). In this way the Church scrutinizes
the signs of the times, interpreting them in the light of the Gospel (GS,
4). Surely Catholic universities are called to do the same, striving to
respond to perennial questions, without at the same time having sim-
plistic solutions to every problem. Gospel principles in the life of the
Church are crystal clear, but their application involves prayer and
openness to the Spirit of Truth.

In treating the mission of the Church in the modern world (cf. Part I,
chapter 4), Gaudium et spes expresses the conviction that the Church
believes that she can contribute greatly toward making the human
family and its history more human. The Church holds in high esteem
and values the contribution of other Christian churches and ecclesial
communities and of all human society. A special part of the Church’s
mission is to proclaim all human rights. The forces of all people of good
will are needed in this vital cause. Certainly the leadership role of
Catholic higher education must not fail. There is still so much to be
done throughout the world.

In the aftermath of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI and John Paul II led
the world in the implementation of human rights. In 1967, just shortly
after the close of the Council, Paul VI would issue his great encyclical
“The Development of Peoples” Two years later, in Africa, and on many
other occasions, he would vigorously supplement this by his personal

John Paul II would fall heir both to the Ecumenical Council and to
Paul VI. The incarnational spirituality of Gaudium et spes was evident
as it proclaimed that the split between the faith that many people
profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among “the more
serious errors of our age” (GS, 43). It further stated that there can be no
false opposition between professional and social activities on the one
hand and religious living on the other. In perfect harmony with the
Gospel it further went on to assert: “The Christian who neglects his
temporal duties neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God,
and jeopardizes his eternal salvation . . . . In the exercise of all their
earthly activities, Christians can thereby gather their humane, domes-
tic, professional, social and technical enterprises into one vital synthe-

sis with religious values, under the supreme direction of which all
things are harmonized for God’s glory” (GS, 43). How fittingly Catholic
higher education can contribute to this synthesis where the Lord is
considered “the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of
history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every
heart and the answer to all its yearnings” (GS, 45).

Five crucial issues of special urgency and particular relevance are

presented to the world’s consideration in Part II of Gaudium et spes: the
dignity of marriage and the family, the proper development of culture,
socio-economic life, the life of the political community and fostering
peace and the international community. It seems to me that all five
issues require special reflection, study and promotion as matters su-
premely relevant to Catholic higher education.

The Council’s treatment of marriage and the family (Part II, chapter
1) begins with a recognition of the great challenges that face the family
today. In this context the Council proclaims the sanctity of marriage
and the family and the entire Catholic doctrine of Christian married
love and Christian married life. Certainly Catholic universities, in-
spired by divine revelation as interpreted by the magisterium of
the Church, have many authentic reflections to share on these divine

The Council zeros in on the centrality of conjugal love and the concept
of a covenant relationship between two people in which marriage and
conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and the
educating of children. The Council asserts that the intimate partner-
ship of married life and love has been established by the Creator and
made subject to His laws. It is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrev-
ocable personal consent. Gaudium et spes speaks of children as the
supreme gift of marriage. Anticipating the encyclical Humanae vitae,
the Council asserts that “when there is a question of harmonizing con-
jugal love, the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any
procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or an evaluation
of motives” (GS, 51). This aim of the Council to inculcate the dignity of
marriage and the family is certainly today a tremendous support for
married couples as they endeavor to fulfill their great mission of human
and Christian love in the Church and in the world. I submit that Catho-
lic higher education should not be absent from offering its support to
this cause.

Another issue to which Vatican II devoted particular attention is

culture (Part II, chapter 2). The Council stated that human beings can

only come to an authentic and full expression of their humanity through

culture. The Council attempted to give an adequate description of cul-
ture, saying that it indicates all those aspects by which a human being
refines and unfolds his or her manifold spiritual and bodily qualities. It
is a feature of culture that throughout history man expresses, commu-
nicates and preserves in his works great spiritual experiences and de-
sires (GS, 53). In this sense we can speak so fittingly of Catholic culture.
People are conscious, the Council says, that they themselves can be the
artisans and authors of the culture of their community. This presumes
a sense of responsibility and solidarity. This is the context in which the
Council says that we are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one
in which the human being is defined especially by his or her responsi-
bility toward his or her brothers and sisters and toward history. In the
humanization of the world, how important it is that each person real-
izes his or her responsibility to others. Is not a Catholic university a
powerful forum for this solidarity to be realized and this humanization
to take place?

The Council speaks also about socio-economic life (cf. Part II, chapter
3), placing all economic development at the service of man, the human
being, the human person. Two years after Vatican II, in his encyclical
“On the Development of Peoples” already mentioned, Pope Paul VI
powerfully developed this theme.

In this context, Gaudium et spes then speaks about human labor—

how it is superior to all the other elements of economic life, and how the
human person is a partner in the work of bringing God’s creation to
perfection. In 1981 John Paul II developed in his encyclical Laborem
exercens the whole theology of work. In this encyclical Pope John Paul
II presented human work as a key to the whole social question of our
day. While seeing private ownership and property as an expression of
human freedom, the Council also speaks of the profound plan of God in
which there is a common destination for created things and in which all
human beings are called to recognize interdependence and exercise
solidarity. In this chapter three the Council has initiated us into a great
reflection on solidarity and globalization. These themes are important
for the humanization of the world. Surely they cannot be alien to the
scope of Catholic higher education.

Gaudium et spes makes it clear that the political community exists

for the common good (cf. Part II, chapter 4). This political community
and public authority are based on human nature and belong to an order
of things divinely foreordained. For this reason those who serve in
politics contribute greatly to the building up of society. The political

community and the Church are mutually independent and self-

governing but they both serve the personal and social vocation of the
same human beings in accordance with the truth of humanity. Catholic
politicians are expected to bring to their service of the community those
principles based on the natural law, inscribed in the human heart and
subsequently also proclaimed by the Church.

In recent times the need for political participation of Catholics in

public life according to their own upright consciences has been amply
reinforced and clarified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith. It is an area that requires consistency, wisdom, serenity of judg-
ment and courage.

Gaudium et spes concludes by turning the attention of the world to the

subject of peace: the fostering of peace and the promotion of a commu-
nity of nations (Part II, chapter 5). It makes clear that it is speaking
about a peace that is based on justice and love. It makes clear that by
peace it does not mean only the absence of war, but rather the work of

The Council draws greatly in this regard on the encyclical of Pope

John XXIII, Pacem in terris. Even as the Fathers of the Second Vatican
Council were preparing to issue an appeal for peace, Pope Paul VI was
visiting the United Nations on October 4, 1965, pleading for the avoid-
ance of war and at the same time expressing hope that nations would
come together in a spirit of harmony to understand the basic need for
peace in the world.

In regard to the United Nations, the position of the Holy See has
constantly been that, notwithstanding its weaknesses and limitations,
it is a structure that the world cannot prescind from and that must be
utilized to fulfill a peace-making role for all humanity.

The principles found in the last chapter of Gaudium et spes, on fos-

tering peace and promoting a community of nations, should prove ex-
tremely useful in all serious reflections about the effective and just
response to world tensions. In particular, in regard to the total avoid-
ance of war—and we remember Pope Paul VI’s appeal made at the
United Nations in New York two months before the promulgation of
Gaudium et spes: “jamais plus la guerre”—Vatican II calls for “an evalu-
ation of war with an entirely new attitude” (GS, 80). This attitude
cannot be simplistic, but it must be new. Just before making this most
important appeal, Gaudium et spes had stated: “The horror and per-
versity of war are immensely magnified by the multiplication of scien-

tific weapons” (GS, 80). And it added: “The arms race is an utterly
treacherous trap for humanity” (GS, 81).

More recently the Holy See made an appeal before the United Na-
tions, urging the universal ratification of the Conference on Facilitating
the Entry-into-Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Two other considerations are proposed by Vatican II in this complicated
matter: 1) “Government authorities and others who share public re-
sponsibility have the duty to protect the welfare of the people entrusted
to their care and to conduct such grave matters soberly” 2) “Those who
are pledged to the service of their country as members of its armed
forces should regard themselves as agents of security and freedom on
behalf of their people” (GS, 79). We can never forget, however, the
statement of Pope John Paul II that all war is “a defeat for humanity.”

Gaudium et spes also expressed its conviction that there should be an

agency of the universal Church set up for the worldwide promotion of
justice and for charity for the poor. After the Ecumenical Council, the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council Cor
Unum were both established to serve the needs recognized by Vatican
II. It is inconceivable that these themes of justice, peace and solidarity
in Christian love be absent from the dynamic reflections of Catholic
higher education.

As mentioned, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern

World came to life on the very last day of the Council. The document
was a beautiful sign of Christian hope for the world. Are Catholic uni-
versities not conceived as being signs of hope for humanity in need of
light and goodness and truth? Gaudium et spes was a clear indication of
the Church’s willingness for dialogue within the Church, with those not
in full communion with her, with those who believe in God and with
those also who do not as yet acknowledge God, and even with those who
oppress the Church. It was likewise a great sign of the Church’s desire
to serve, and in this it represented the highest ideal of the Church that
imitates Christ, who says: “I have come not to be served, but to serve.”

Catholic higher education that reflects on Christ’s servanthood in our

midst is invited to offer all its energies to consolidate that new human-
ism in which the human being is indeed defined first of all by respon-
sibility to his or her brothers and sisters and to history. Gaudium et
spes offered to the modern world the challenges inherent in embracing
solidarity and globalization. Forty years later, this challenge presents
itself anew with special relevance to the world of Catholic higher edu-
cation and particularly to this and every Catholic university conscious
of its calling and its purpose.
Gaudium et Spes and the Struggle for
Human Rights in Peru

Mateo Garr, S.J.

The organization for which I work in Peru, the Comisión Episcopal de

Acción Social—the Catholic Bishops’ Social Action Commission (CEAS)
began the same year as the promulgation of Gaudium et spes. The
organization is the Peruvian church’s official organization for promot-
ing church social teaching and for defending human rights—one of the
church’s social doctrine’s important principles. The organization cel-
ebrated both events with a Semana Social—a Social Week—focused on
the importance of that pastoral constitution in our own modern world.
The organization feels strongly that human rights is an essential aspect
of all of social ministry, and that Gaudium et spes1 is the most impor-
tant church document which speaks about human rights. It is from this
perspective that I propose to address four questions:

• What does Gaudium et spes say about human rights?

• How does Gaudium et spes emerge from and extend John XXIII’s
encyclical, Pacem in terris?2
• What is the essential relationship between human rights in par-
ticular and church social teaching in general?
• How has attending to human rights served as the backbone of
social ministry during the past forty years in Latin America in
general and in Peru in particular?

I do not suggest that there always exists a direct causal relationship

between the document that Paul VI promulgated on December 7, 1965
and what church groups are doing in human rights ministries in Latin
America. I do want to propose, however, something perhaps even more

Mateo Garr, SJ. is Assistant Director of the Social Action Commission of the Peruvian
Catholic Bishops Conference in Lima Peru.

Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 1965.
John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 1964



significant: Certainly those Christian communities in Latin America

that are involved in the defense of human rights find the justification
for their work in the words of Gaudium et spes (and, indeed, also in the
many other church documents published since 1965—especially by
John Paul II). But what is even more important is that the work of
these Christian communities in the field of the defense of the rights of
the human person has also influenced what the institutional church
says about the topic. In other words, these basic Christian communities
have been actively participating in the process of the continual forma-
tion of church social teaching.

1. Gaudium et Spes and Human Rights

The concept of “rights” is mentioned in 19 of the pastoral constitu-

tion’s 93 paragraphs. More importantly, it is mentioned in three of the
four chapters in the first part of Gaudium et spes concerning the ori-
enting principles and in all five chapters of the second part of the
constitution on some more urgent problems. In other words, the concept
of rights underlies the whole document. It is not merely an aside.

The first reference to rights occurs in number 21 in the context of a

discourse on the problem of atheism and stresses the right of each
person to practice his or her religion. Further, in the second chapter on
the communitarian nature of the human person, Gaudium et spes (GS,
25) employs John XXIII’s terminology of socialization and envisions
that phenomenon positively as a way to protect one’s human rights. The
following paragraph outlines a list of some basic economic, social, and
cultural rights:

Therefore, there must be made available to all people everything necessary for lead-
ing a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state
of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good
reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the
upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and to rightful free-
dom, even in matters religious.

Gaudium et spes adds a condemnation of discrimination and a defense

of civil rights:

. . . with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimina-
tion, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition,
language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.
(GS, 29)

In the 4th chapter of Gaudium et spes on the role of the church in the
modern world (GS, 41), the Council fathers insist that greater human
rights do not mean being exempt from every requirement of divine law,
because that way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human
person, but its annihilation. In other words, human law and divine law
are not opposed.

In a manner which would be repeated by church social teaching over

the following four decades,

the church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights
of the person; the church acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements
of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered.

In the second part of Gaudium et spes, the first chapter refers to

marriage and the family, and number 52 states that the family is the
foundation of society because it is the place where personal rights are
harmonized with the other requirements of social life.

In the following chapter on the progress of culture, the Bishops insist

that culture itself can only develop correctly in a context of freedom and
respect for human rights:

Culture, because it flows immediately from the spiritual and social character of the
human person, has constant need of a just liberty in order to develop; it needs also
the legitimate possibility of exercising its autonomy according to its own principles.
It therefore rightly demands respect and enjoys a certain inviolability within the
limits of the common good, as long, of course, as it preserves the rights of the
individual and the community, whether particular or universal. (GS, 59)

But the greatest emphasis on human rights occurs in the chapters on

economic development and the life of the political community. Both
chapters manifest a similar starting point. With an analogy from
Mark’s Gospel (2:27) about the Sabbath, the Council fathers proclaim
that both political and economic structures are made for the human
person, and not the person for the structures.

(Economic) growth is not to be left solely to a kind of mechanical course of the

economic activity of individuals, nor to the authority of government. For this reason,
doctrines which obstruct the necessary reforms under the guise of a false liberty, and
those which subordinate the basic rights of individual persons and groups to the
collective organization of production must be shown to be erroneous.3 (GS, 65)

Cf John Paul II, Mater et magistra: 53.

Among these basic rights of the human person is to be numbered the right of freely
founding unions for working people, which includes, at least as a last resort, the
right to strike. (GS, 68)

The following chapter on the political community notes that the forms
of political communities have been changing in the modern world, and

the present keener sense of human dignity has given rise in many parts of the world
to attempts to bring about a politico-juridical order which will give better protection
to the rights of the person in public life. These include the right freely to meet and
form associations, the right to express one’s own opinion and to profess one’s religion
both publicly and privately. (GS, 73)

Such civil and political rights are the pre-condition for the functioning
of a modern democracy, for as the same paragraph states:

The protection of the rights of a person is indeed a necessary condition so that

citizens, individually or collectively, can take an active part in the life and govern-
ment of the state,

which is a pre-condition for the all-important task of seeking the com-

mon good. As we shall see later, Gaudium et spes envisions both the
political and economic system as the structural means necessary to
obtain the common good of each and every person. Thus people do not
have the right to harm the common good in order to assure their own
particular good,

but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and the rights of their fellow
citizens against the abuse of this authority, while keeping within those limits drawn
by the natural law and the Gospels. (GS, 74)

These basic human rights, which belong to everyone simply because

they are human, nevertheless need to be supported in society by means
of positive law for

the rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must
be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all
citizens. (GS, 75)

In the final chapter of Gaudium et spes on the fostering of peace and

the promotion of a community of nations, the main argument is that the
outlawing of total war requires the establishment of a universal public
authority which respects the rights of the individual persons:

It is our clear duty, therefore, to strain every muscle in working for the time when all
war can be completely outlawed by international consent. This goal undoubtedly
requires the establishment of some universal public authority acknowledged as such
by all and endowed with the power to safeguard on the behalf of all, security, regard
for justice, and respect for rights. (GS, 81)

In summary then we can conclude that the topic of rights plays an

integral part in the message of Gaudium et spes. That is, if these ref-
erences were removed from the text, the central message of the pastoral
constitution would be changed substantially. Before finishing this sec-
tion, let me comment on one possible objection: Some commentators
suggest that the basic reason why the church supports human rights is
in order to protect itself in those countries where religion in general or
Catholicism in particular is proscribed. While that was one of the is-
sues, though certainly not the most important one, taken up by the
Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis huma-
nae,4 promulgated the same day as Gaudium et spes, both the impor-
tance given to the principle of human dignity in Gaudium et spes and
the numerous reference to different types of rights in the pastoral con-
stitution make it clear that the protection of the church’s own rights are
only one small part of the way in which the Council Fathers understood
the concept of rights.

What we shall examine next is how such a message was not entirely
or even principally an original formulation on the part of the bishops
who wrote the pastoral constitution but rather a compilation of earlier
writings in church social teaching.

2. Historical Influences Concerning Human Rights on

Gaudium et spes

The importance of rights did not begin with Gaudium et spes, but is
found first in John XXIII’s encyclical letter Pacem in terris, written two
years and nine months before Gaudium et spes. In fact, great portions
of the pastoral constitution owe their origins to John XXIII, especially
the reference to both of his social encyclicals, Pacem in terris and the
earlier Mater et magistra. Gaudium et spes quotes John XXIII more
than twice as much as any other Pope. Those two encyclicals substan-
tiate the four basic social principles presented in the first part of

Herminio Rico, John Paul II and the Legacy of Dignitatis Humanae, Washinton,
D.C.: Washington, D.C., 2002.

Gaudium et spes and also stand at the root of the final four chapters on
the practical application of those four principles to the issues of culture,
economics, politics, and peace.

Mary Ann Glendon in her book, A World Made New,5 on Eleanor

Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,6 makes an
interesting allusion to the fact that one of the three key writers of that
1948 Declaration was the French lawyer, René Cassin, who was also a
personal friend of the then Apostolic Nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli.
What influence did each man have on the other? Considering John
XXIII’s ability to listen and learn from others,7 it is certainly possible
that Cassin provided the future John XXIII a method for interpreting
his own lived experiences before and during the world war in Bulgaria,
Greece, Turkey, and France itself. Similarly, I believe that one of the
real purposes of the Council Fathers in publishing Gaudium et spes was
to pay tribute to the man by whose inspiration the whole phenomenon
of the Second Vatican came into existence.

Perhaps those are only speculative theories which cannot be defini-

tively proven. And perhaps too Gaudium et spes adds only a little struc-
turally to the issue of human rights than what Pacem in terris had
already stated. Nevertheless, I do affirm that the importance of the
Council in general, and specifically of the pastoral constitution on the
Church in the Modern World, is that it provided the support of an entire
Council which promoted human rights not merely as one other impor-
tant aspect of the Church’s role in the world but Indeed as the very
backbone of the church’s entire social commitment.8 And that is my
central thesis.

3. The Relationship between Human Rights and the Church’s

Social Teaching

The Catholic Church speaks out on many social issues: from abortion
to capital punishment, from economic development to humanitarian
interventions. But the topic of human rights is not merely one among

Mary Ann Glendon, A World made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Dec-
laration of Human Rights, New York: Random House, 2001:132.
United Nations, Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Thomas Cahill, Pope John XXIII, New York: Viking Books, 2002: 96 & 156,
I develop these same themes in Pacem in terris in the article “Pacem in Terris, 40
Years After: Human Rights and Practical Action in Journal of Catholic Social Thought
1.1(2004): 83-92.

many topics about which the church has taken a prophetic stand.
Rather human rights are one of the very principles of the church’s social
teaching which need be applied to all other social issues.

According to that principle, the church view on human rights never

stands alone; it is always complemented with an equal insistence on
human duties.

It is not surprising that human rights and duties are envisioned as a

mutual relationship in church social teaching. Almost all of the prin-
ciples of church social doctrine form into pairs and qualify each other.
They either lead up to or are a consequence of the central most principle
of social doctrine which stands by itself: the common good. And all of
these principles are mentioned one way or another in Gaudium et spes.

• Human rights are mutually complementary with Human duties.9

In this sense the church’s social doctrine is way ahead of the UN
Declaration of Human Rights, for that latter document only men-
tions “duties” in one number (29). The framers of the Declaration
were able to make use of the window of opportunity between the
end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War
between the East and the West to secure the universal declaration
of rights. To ask them to produce in addition a universal declara-
tion of human duties would have broken the fragile equilibrium
they momentarily achieved. The synthesis of the two is one impor-
tant contribution which the church makes to the modern world.

Similarly with the other principles of Catholic social teaching:

• Solidarity is possible when it works alongside Subsidiarity.10 (The

principle of solidarity is already mentioned in the very first para-
graph of Gaudium et spes and then in another six of the constitu-
tion’s nine chapters.11 Subsidiarity is mentioned explicitly once in

Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the
Church, from here on cited as “CSDC”, 2004: 156 which cites Pacem in terris, 32 and
Gaudium et spes, 26.
Congregation for Catholic Education. Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the
Church’s Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests, 1988: 38 and CSDC 2004: 194.
In addition to the introduction, the word “Solidarity” appears another seven times
in the text: Nº 32, 39, 48, 57, 75, 85, and 90.

Nº 86 in the chapter on peace and the international community.12

By virtue of solidarity we respond to the person who is in need; by
virtue of subsidiarity we protect and preserve the right of those
same persons to use our aid in the form which they judge as best.
We can’t have one without the other.
• Most importantly of all, the Dignity of the Human Person only
makes sense in relationship to the Communitarian nature of the
individual Person. This is one of the points where church social
teaching takes an entirely different tact than most of western phi-
losophy since the Enlightenment: the commonly held view by con-
temporary western culture is that of the social contract: human-
kind lives in community and permits the principle of authority as
a lesser evil, as a necessary condition for the individual’s pursuit of
happiness. For Gaudium et spes (24), as for Pacem in terris (46),
human beings were created by God as social creatures by nature,
that is, from the beginning, and therefore the principle of authority
is a positive good: It is our way of working for the common good
which is our purpose in this life. We cannot make general state-
ments that the human person is always more important than the
community nor vice-versa. The point is, both here and with the
other principles, they stand in a mutual relationship which re-
quires a constant prayerful discernment.
• The Common Destiny of the Goods of Creation stands alongside the
principle of the Preferential Option for the Poor. Both are principles
employed in order to discover concretely in what the Common Good
consists. Gaudium et spes (34)13 and then in more detail in the
chapter on economic activity in (69)14 speaks about the principle of
the common destiny of the goods of creation. Although the specific
wording of “the preferential option for the poor” occurs for the first
time in the writings of John Paul II,15 Pacem in terris (56). adds
that while by definition the common good is for everyone, “(c)on-

The concept of “Subsidiarity” is also described without using that word in Nº 75 in
the chapter on political activity and again in Nº 90 on peace and the international
Human beings “can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the
Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of men and women who are their brothers
and sisters, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history
of the divine plan.”
“God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human
beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity,
created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner.”
CELAM, Puebla, 1979 and Sollicitudo rei socialis, 1988: 42.

siderations of justice and equity, however, can at times demand that

those involved in civil government give more attention to the less
fortunate members of the community, since they are less able to
defend their rights and to assert their legitimate claims.” so they
carry the same message: What is good for the wealthy is not nec-
essarily good for the poor, but what is good for the poor is not going
to harm the fundamental dignity of the wealthy. In the same para-
graph in which Gaudium et spes speaks about the common desti-
nation of the goods of creation, (69), the text refers to this comple-
mentary principle of giving priority to the needs of the poor.16 Thus
both concepts taken together are necessary in order to relativize
the concept of private property and place the emphasis of church
teaching on the common good: The Compendium reminds us that
although “it is true that everyone is born with the right to use the
goods of the earth, it is likewise true that, in order to ensure that this
right is exercised in an equitable and orderly fashion, regulated
interventions are necessary, interventions that are the result of na-
tional and international agreements, and a juridical order that ad-
judicates and specifies the exercise of this right.”17
• All of the above mentioned double sets of principles lead up to or
are derived from this central principle of the church social teach-
ing: the Common Good. Gaudium et spes defines the common good
in (26) as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow
social groups and their individual members relatively thorough
and ready access to their own fulfillment” which is based on John
XXIII’s definition in Mater et magistra (55) and in Pacem in terris
(58): “the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby
people are enabled to achieve their own integral perfection more
fully and more easily”. Indeed, we could interpret the whole pur-
pose of Gaudium et spes as the church present in the world to help
all the peoples of this world to achieve that common good.

Each of the principles stand in relationship to one another, and all

must be taken into account. Church social teaching has always consid-
ered that the dignity of the human person and the communitarian

Since there are so many people prostrate with hunger in the world, this sacred
council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the aphorism of the
Fathers, “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have
killed him,” and really to share and employ their earthly goods, according to the ability
of each, especially by supporting individuals or peoples with the aid by which they may
be able to help and develop themselves.
CSDC (2004):173-174.

nature of the person are the starting points for any reflection. And I
have tried to demonstrate here that all of these principles have as their
purpose the pursuit of the common good. The defense of human rights
and the universal call to human duties are a consequence of those first
principles and a fundamental condition for the central principle of the
common good. Demonstrating this unity among the principles of church
social teaching was the purpose for which John Paul II in 1999 asked
the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace to prepare the Compendium
of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC).

The point of this long explanation on the complementary nature

of church social teaching is to demonstrate that these are not mechani-
cal principles. They cannot be applied automatically to every social
situation. Rather what is required is the application of these principles
in the context of the ongoing prayerful discernment of the Christian

4. The Effect of Gaudium et Spes on the Latin American

Human Rights Movement

What I want to show in the second part of this paper is how that
teaching on human rights has had a significant effect on the structure
of the Catholic church in Latin America and perhaps even on the uni-
versal church. Or in other words, Gaudium et spes is still exercising an
important role in the church forty years later.

This can be seen in the first place by the response in Latin America in
the immediate aftermath of the Council. The major consequence of
Gaudium et spes on the Latin American church as a whole were the
General Conferences of the Latin American Bishops (CELAM) held in
Medellín, Colombia in 1968, Puebla, México in 1979, and the Domini-
can Republic in 1992.

The experience in Medellín was a surprise to everyone including Pope

Paul VI and the bishops who met in Colombia. The purpose of the
second official meeting of the Latin American bishops18 was to motivate
the implementation of the documents and decrees of Vatican II. No one
expected the bishops to go beyond what the Council had done. After all,
the active participation of the Latin American bishops at the Council
was hardly significant. Of the 600 or so Latin American bishops who

The first was in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro where CELAM was established.

went to Rome from 1962 to 1965, only one in twelve actually par-
ticipated in the commissions which prepared the decrees. On the
other hand, one out of every four European bishops were part of those

What Medellín actually produced was the first autonomous statement

of the bishops of the continent. One of its key documents was the chap-
ter on justice and its insistence on “institutional violence” as being the
primary cause of injustice. Medellín was neither a cause nor an effect of
the theology of liberation, but in the practice it was the first time that
the bishops publicly sanctioned that theological perspective, and it was
from that time on that theologians from Central and South America
began to make significant contributions to theology in general and no
longer simply be recipients and adapters of theologies which were de-
veloped in Europe.

By the time of the Third General Conference of the Latin American

bishops which was held in Puebla, Mexico in 1979, the structures of the
conservative reaction to the Council were already well established. And
the purpose of the theologians who prepared for Puebla was to turn the
conclusions of Medellín around. The first preparatory document for
Puebla was stamped as top secret and sent only to the bishops. Of
course, as any high school teacher knows, a sure way to get one’s stu-
dents to read the assigned material is to prohibit it! In fact, the best
example of community participation in the preparation for an impor-
tant church event was the contributions presented during 1977 and
1978 in preparation for Puebla. Proposals and suggestions came from
literally thousands of communities. As a result, far from turning its
back on Medellín, the conclusions of Puebla went even further, and
became known for their insistence on the preferential option for the
poor as the way of carrying out the Gospel’s injunctions.

The 4th General Conference of CELAM occurred in Santo Domingo

(the Dominican Republic) as part of the celebrations for the 500th an-
niversary of the first evangelization of America. This time the conser-
vative forces were prepared: instead of prohibiting the reading of the
preparatory documents, they inundated the local churches with three
separate documents but provided very little time for the local commu-
nities to respond. In addition, in countries like Peru where we were still
involved in a terrorist conflict and where the economy was evolving
from hyper-inflation to hyper-recession, few Christian communities
had the luxury of time for such participation (plus the fact that many
communities had already concluded that their suggestions were mostly
ignored). Still, the documents of Santo Domingo produced some signifi-

cant notes of progress. The entire second section of the conclusions

(157–227) was dedicated to the topic of Human Development, and the
very first chapter of that section was on Human Rights (164—168) in
which the bishops stated that “every violation of human rights contra-
dicts God’s plan and is a sin.” (164), and they go on to say that “When
the church proclaims the Gospel, where human rights finds its deepest
roots, this is not some extraneous task, but rather it obeys the command
of Jesus Christ who made help for the needy an essential requirement of
its evangelizing mission” (165)

All three general conferences advanced the social proposals of Vatican

II: First, with respect to its analysis of the structures of institutional
violence (Medellín); secondly, the preferential option for the poor (Pue-
bla), and finally the priority of human rights (Dominican Republic) and
have thus contributed to the ongoing growth of Church social teaching.

What happened at the level of CELAM during these four decades is

the result of what happened previously at the grassroots level in the
local churches. J. Bryan Hehir, The Ministry of Human Rights and
Catholic Higher Education19 in speaking about the effects of John
XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in terris, showed that the encyclical provided
the necessary justification for local church groups to get involved in
directly human rights work. The concrete example he cites is Brazil
where a military coup occurred in 1964 which led to the repression of
many political and social leaders. The principal organization that came
to the defense of the victims of this violence and their families was the
Catholic Church. While it was not the case that everyone was reading
the encyclical and decided spontaneously to put its lessons into practice,
the fact remains that the local church human rights groups found their
motivation in Pope John’s words.

The publication of Gaudium et spes at the end of 1965 had an even

stronger effect. Three key examples are the Vicarías de Solidaridad,
founded by the church in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup in Chile in
September of 1973; the work of Archdiocesan office of human rights in
El Salvador established by Mons. Oscar Romero; and the network of
human rights offices in 25 dioceses in Peru in order to respond to the
terrorist violence of the Shining Path and the consequent government
repression during the 1980’s and 1990’s are all examples of the church’s

Available at <http://www.vincenter.org/96/hehir.html>.

commitment to human rights. This is the example I will develop in

more detail.

It was in the optimistic context of the last year of the Council, the
Peruvian Bishops founded its Social Action Commission (Comisión
Episcopal de Acción Social—CEAS) on March 11, 1965, just nine
months before the promulgation of the pastoral constitution. CEAS
began as a forum where pastoral agents from around the country could
get together to reflect on the ongoing political, economic, and cultural
reality in the light of the Gospel and the Council.

By the 1970’s CEAS moved from being merely a forum for reflection
and began to assume practical applications of Church social doctrine. In
response to the Gaudium et spes principle that the economic structures
of society must exist for the service of the human person, CEAS helped
to attend to the demands of workers who had been fired from their
positions during the second phase of the 1970’s military government.
And in relation to the cultural welfare of the people during that same
period, CEAS began to promote programs for training rural peasants
who were already pastoral catechists for health care and promotion.
Those concerns are examples of economic and social rights. 1980
marked the beginning of what turned out to be two decades of terrorist
violence and government repression in Peru. When the south-central
Peruvian Andes fell into the hands of the terrorist “Shining Path” or-
ganization, the newly elected democratic government declared that the
region was under a state of constitutional exception and sent in military
forces to restore order. At that time the local Bishops began to receive
more and more calls to come to the aid of the victims of the violence and
to defend the cause of the innocent people who were being arrested and
“disappeared.” CEAS responded by creating a central team of more
than 60 lawyers, social assistants, and teachers and by supporting local
human rights organizations in some 25 dioceses. So, in addition to its
previous work, CEAS also began working on the promotion and defense
of political and civil rights.

Since the end of the political violence in 2000, CEAS has supported
the creation, carrying-out and follow-up of Peru’s official Truth and
Reconciliation Commission whose purpose was to discover the struc-
tures of violence and propose conditions for a permanent peace.

Since the 1990’s and into the new millennium CEAS is working in a
number of other areas of social concern described by the Council and by
CELAM: In the face of globalization and neo-liberalism, CEAS works

for an economy based on solidarity, and on the issue of the reduction of

the foreign debt: In the Jubilee 2000 campaign, Peru presented more
signatures than any other country in the world. Secondly, in the move-
ment from social attention to advocacy, CEAS works for those goals of
citizen participation in the political sphere (as proposed by Mater et
magistra and Gaudium et spes). CEAS also proposes structures for
citizen vigilance of municipal and regional governments and by propos-
ing legislation at the national level for the adequate control of the
environment and the economy with relation to such issues as the mas-
sive presence of foreign mining companies and the issues of the so-
called free trade agreements with the United States.

Parallel to its work in social action in favor of an integral view of

human rights, CEAS has always promoted educational programs in
Church social teaching, and when the Pope or CELAM presents a new
social document, CEAS prepares “popular versions” of the social Mag-
isterium so that basic Christian communities can know and apply these
principles to their ongoing reality. In that way CEAS accomplishes the
goal not only of educating people in terms of what church social teach-
ing is all about but also promoting the effort so that those base Chris-
tian communities can become active participants in the ongoing process
of the formation of this doctrine.

I present the case of CEAS and Peru as one example of what hap-
pened around the continent: This can also be seen in the work of
CELAM. One of the departments of CELAM, Justice and Solidarity,
holds regular meetings on human rights and church social teaching to
which representatives of all of the countries are invited.

In 1993 representatives from several countries began to share their

own experiences in the ministry of human rights. They were surprised
to discover how similar their work had been over the whole continent.
Even more so they came to realize that during the years of political
violence, the ministry of human rights not only occupied most of their
time quantitatively but, indeed also provided a qualitative focus for all
of their social ministries. In other words, even when they weren’t work-
ing specifically on a human rights case, like for example when they
were giving parish courses in church social teaching, the focus on hu-
man rights became the unifying principle of their efforts. CELAM then
convoked a continent-wide encounter on the topic of human rights min-
istry and in order to ask that very question. Representatives from 19
Latin American countries met in Lima in 1994. At the conclusion of
their experience, they formulated the following hypothesis: “Human
rights ministry on our continent is not simply one of many ways of being

involved in the church’s social apostolate. It is rather the unifying prin-

ciple of all of our social commitment”.

Then in 1997 representatives, this time from 24 countries on the

continent, including the U.S. and some observers from Catholic orga-
nizations in Europe, met again in Lima to share the results of their
surveys. The conclusion of the CELAM encounter was the magna carta
for bringing human rights into the mainstream of the church on the
continent. Human rights activities could no longer be seen as a topic
better left to the secular world.

One year later, 1998, marked the 50th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights on the part of the United Nations. John
Paul II himself considered it an important enough event that he dedi-
cated his message for world peace day on January first, both in 1998
and 1999, to commemorating that declaration. In fact, human rights
and the dignity of the human person is perhaps the principle contribu-
tion that the Pope has made to the whole corpus of church social teach-
ing. That was the central point he makes in his letter for 2003 world
peace day which commemorated the 40th anniversary of Pacem in

In July of 1998 the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, very

much aware of the grassroots level development of the ministry of hu-
man rights, organized the first World Congress on Human Rights to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Universal
Declaration on Human Rights. While the Congress did not explicitly
take on the thesis of the Latin American conferences about the essential
nature of human rights for all of social ministry, nevertheless the
Pope’s talk to the delegates on that occasion re-affirmed his own com-
mitment to the apostolate of human rights. In that speech the Pope
stressed two themes: first, that it is necessary to bring the spirit of
human rights into agreement with the letter of the law, and secondly,
in addition to civil and political rights, we need to work for the juridical
application of economic, social, and cultural rights. That can be ex-
plained by an example: If one’s political rights were abused, that person
in principle could have juridical recourse all the way up to the Inter-
national Court of Justice. But if a person suffers from the abuse of his
or her economic or social rights, there is no where to turn in search of
a juridical sanction. I would conclude that as a result of that Congress

John Paul II, Pacem in Terris: A Permanent Commitment. World Peace Day, 2003.

and the Pope’s own message, confirmed too by his messages for World
Peace Day in both 1998 and 1999, the content that human rights is now
part of the ordinary agenda of the universal church.21 I suggest that the
experience of human rights ministry around the world, but especially in
Latin America, is an example of the normal procedure by which the
local churches participate in both the formation and the application of
church social teaching. It is the way the process is supposed to work.

Church social teaching works (or should work) in two complementary

directions: It is at the level of grassroots basic Christian communities
that the members reflect on their own lived experience in the light of
the Gospel. This reflection is not the same as a strictly political or
economic social analysis of reality, although it certainly does not ex-
clude those methods. But what distinguishes the reflection of the Chris-
tian community from a purely academic or political analysis is that it is
accomplished in a spirit of personal and community prayer. It has as
much or perhaps more to do with the rules of the discernment of spirits
than with sociology or anthropology.

The important thing is that the results do not remain at the grass-
roots level. Here too the ideal of participation is that the basic Christian
communities share their insights at the level of the parishes; represen-
tatives of the parishes do the same at the level of the dioceses; and the
diocesan bishops or their representatives carry these experiences to the
national bishops’ conference. The results of the bishops’ reflection
might be shared when the bishops gather together at the continental
level, which was the case of the General Conferences of the Latin
American Bishops in Medellín, Puebla, and Santo Domingo. It is also
the system designed for further participation in the preparation for the
Bishops’ Synods in Rome.

Participation is one side of the process. And the other side can be
called application: The pastoral letters written by individual bishops
are sent to the local parishes where the basic Christian communities
reflect on their content. Ideally the same thing happens with the dec-
larations of the national bishops’ conferences and the regional organi-

John Paul II, From the Justice of Each Comes Peace for All. World Peace Day, 1998
and John Paul II, Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace. World Peace
Day, 1999.

zations like CELAM. In theory something similar should have occurred

at the level of the tri-annual Bishops’ Synods in Rome. Certainly that
was the proposal which Paul VI made in his apostolic letter, Octogesima
adveniens,22 and it was put into practice by the 1971 Bishops’ Synod on
Justice in the World. But by the time of the following Synod on Evan-
gelization in 1974, the bishops turned the task over to the Pope himself
to write Apostolic Exhortations to summarize the results of the Bishops’
deliberations. That procedure has produced some very important docu-
ments concerning church social teaching such as Evangelii nuntian-
di 23 or Christifideles laici24 but what was often neglected in the process
was this principle of ample participation of the grassroots’ level of the
universal church.

In the adult education work I do in Peru on church social teaching, I

can demonstrate this lack of broad participation with a simple tech-
nique: I ask the people if they can tell me the topic of the most recent
Bishops’ Synod or what the topic of the next Synod is going to be.
Perhaps I should ask the same question right now of this group! The
fact remains that most practicing and believing Christians would have
little if any idea. In other words, the practice of participation in and
application of church social teaching is not working as well as one would

Nevertheless, in order not to end my presentation on a negative note,

I would conclude that the ministry of promoting and defending human
rights, at least in Latin America, is proof that the process of participa-
tion and application of the church’s social doctrine is still possible.
Pacem in terris and Gaudium et spes responded to the challenge made
by society in general in the U.N. declaration on Human Rights. Then
the local churches in Latin America were able to defend their work in
human rights ministry by referring to that social teaching. And over the
decades of concrete practice concerning human rights, the church’s
message about human dignity has widened to cover environmental,
cultural, social, and economic rights as well as political and civil rights.

Another way to say the same thing is to note that the method of the
theology of liberation has been confirmed: Grass roots Christian com-
munities whose members are involved in a social ministry whose ob-

Paul VI, 1971: 4.
Paul VI, 1975.
John Paul II, 1988.

jective is systemic change have a privileged stance from which to do

theological reflection.

The issue of the relationship between the teaching role of the church’s
Magisterium and the practice of the local churches around the world is
still in debate.25 Though the new Compendium of Church Social Teach-
ing brings up the topic, a deeper reflection on this dynamic will be one
of the most important tasks for theology in the future. The development
of the ministry of human rights as a response to the call of John XXIII
in particular and Gaudium et spes in general will play an important
role in this discussion for it presents a positive example of the partici-
pative nature of what the church teaches about society and justice.

See Charles Curran, Catholic Social Teaching 1891-Present: A Historical, Theo-
logical, and Ethical Analysis, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2002.
A Church in the Modern World of Africa:
The Zambian Experience

Peter J. Henriot, S.J.


How often have you and I used the opening words of Gaudium et spes,
“The joys and hopes, the fears and anxieties. . .”. to call attention for
ourselves and for others to the overriding priority of the Church’s mis-
sion today, the service of all humanity to enjoy life to the fullest! Surely,
there is no “church in the modern world” if there is not that Christian
community composed of women and men, united in Christ, led by the
Holy Spirit, in a journey to the Kingdom intimately linked with hu-
mankind and its history.1 I want in this paper to present the experience
of one part of our universal Christian community, reflecting my own
encounter of what this means in putting our church’s social teaching
(CST) into real daily life. This is more of a personal reflection on expe-
rience than an academic analysis of texts. I bring to this reflection
sixteen years of working, pastorally and politically, in one African coun-
try, Zambia.

Zambia became independent of British colonial rule in 1964, one year

before that greatest document of the Second Vatican Council, Church in
the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), was published. The Catholic
Church in Zambia has over the past forty years played a very signifi-
cant role in the development of the country. This has occurred both
through direct service institutions (e.g., schools and hospitals) and
through explicit social teaching on key issues facing the country at
large. Today the church enjoys a prominent and respected place, in
cooperation with other church bodies, in influencing the social, eco-

Peter J. Henriot, S.J., is Director of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in
Lusaka Zambia

GS, 1.



nomic and political life of the people, as well as the religious life of
individuals and the community.

It is certainly true that key to the influence of the Catholic church has
been the guidance provided by the church’s social teaching, in offering
both clarification of issues and motivation for responding to those is-
sues. This social teaching is found both in official documents (many of
them ecumenically produced)2 and in actions undertaken by churches
and small Christian communities (SCCs) and by significant organiza-
tions such as the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the
Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection. The CST has also served as the
basis for formation of clergy, religious and laity with the tools of social
spirituality and social analysis.

One can quite honestly say that the Church in the Modern World has
found an incarnation—could we even say an inculturation—in the
Church in Modern World of Africa as experienced in Zambia. Because
of this experience, I want to explore here (1) the context of Zambia, (2)
the methodology of the church’s teaching, (3) the major points in its
content, and (4) a few significant lessons that can be drawn from its

1. Context

It is very important to realize that Zambia is a very rich country, one

of the richest in Africa, and that Zambians are very poor people, some of
the poorest in the world. Zambia is rich in land, water, agriculture,
minerals, tourist sites and most especially, a people at peace—forty
years of seventy-two tribes living without conflict. We are indeed the
envy of our neighbours! But Zambians are very poor, ranking 163 out of
173 on the UNDP Human Development Index, with the World Bank
estimating more than 80% living on less than one dollar a day. Life
expectancy is around 37 years, as malaria, malnutrition and AIDS in-
flict high mortality on the population.

In many ways, Zambia is a classic case study of what afflicts so much

of Africa today: a legacy of colonial exploitation, a history of bad gov-

An excellent collection of these documents can be found in J. Komokoma, ed., The
Social Teaching of the Catholic Bishops and Other Christian Leaders in Zambia: Major
Pastoral Letters and Statements, 1953-2001. Ndola, Zambia: Mission Press, 2003.
In my discussion of Gaudium et spes, I will mainly limit my references to Part II,
Chapters I, III and IV, paragraphs 53 to 76.

ernance, and an experience of the inequitable structures of globalisa-

tion. The current worldwide campaign, Make Poverty History, identifies
well the global problems faced by Zambia: unjust debt burden, unfair
trade relationships and inadequate aid arrangements.4

Zambia is a multi-party democracy, struggling to achieve good gov-

ernance after twenty-seven years of one party rule and ten years of
highly corrupt rule. We are in the midst now of constitutional review
and up-coming presidential elections—highly contentious issues, but
issues being dealt with politically, not militarily, thank God! Within
Zambia, we have a very vital civil society, often led by a very vital
church. The Catholic church plays a major role, as it is a church work-
ing to implement the guidelines designed by the 1994 African
Synod and articulated in the 1995 apostolic exhortation of John Paul II,
Ecclesia in Africa. These guidelines describe the task of evangelisation
as five-fold: (1) proclamation, (2) inculturation, (3) dialogue, (4) justice
and peace, and (5) communication.5 The life of the church is grounded
in the small Christian communities that form each parish in the

Early in Gaudium et spes, there is a beautiful and powerful descrip-

tion of “The Role of the Church in the Modern World.”6 The description
highlights the mutual relationship between church and world and the
contribution that each can make to the other. I believe a look at how
that relationship functions in the church in Zambia in a few major
points can throw important light on this topic. In a brief paper, I can
cite only a few of the more important instances, but enough to show how
a specific methodology influences the content of the Zambian church’s
social teaching. I also cite how this CST is put into practice.

2. Methodology

How the church goes about its formulation and proclamation of the
CST that guides its being a “church in the modern world” is extremely
important. The methodology needs analysis.

See website of this campaign: <http://www.cafod.org.uk/make poverty history.org>.
For articles that provide a good overview of the Synod and also the text of the
Apostolic Exhortation, see Maura Browne, SND, ed., The African Synod: Documents,
Reflections, Perspectives, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.
GS, 40-45.

Ecumenical Cooperation

The Zambian expressions of CST have been examples of serious ecu-

menical cooperation in articulation and action. There are three major
church bodies (frequently referred to as “mother bodies”) in Zambia: the
Zambian Episcopal Conference (ZEC—national secretariat for ten dio-
ceses), the Council of Churches of Zambia (CCZ, comprised of mainline
Protestant churches), and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ,
comprised of mainline evangelicals, not including the newer “tele-
evangelicals” coming in from North America). This cooperation sur-
prised and encouraged me when I came to live in Zambia in 1989. These
church bodies cooperate in some service missions such as health care,
particularly in the rural areas of the country. Most significantly, many
major pastoral letters have come out over the signatures of the leaders
of these three major church bodies. This ecumenical cooperation influ-
ences both the presentation—enriching the message—and the recep-
tion—strengthening the response. Surely this fact is a recognition of the
wisdom of Gaudium et spes when it stated that the church “must rely
on those who live the world, are versed in different institutions and
specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both
believers and un-believers.”7 Effective ecumenical cooperation makes
good sense in today’s church and world, especially in Zambia.

One important joint pastoral letter came in 1979 from the leaders of
the Christian Churches, entitled “Marxism, Humanism and Christian-
ity,” addressing the crisis provoked by the Ruling Party’s desire to
introduce “scientific socialism” as a compulsory course of study in all
schools, from primary to university level. That effort was subsequently
successfully defeated as the churches’ unified voice and cooperative
action forced a backtracking by the Ruling Party.

Another very important ecumenical document was the joint state-

ment in 1987, “Christian Liberation, Justice and Development: The
Churches’ Concern for Human Development in Zambia.” This state-
ment covered a wide range of political, economic, social, cultural and
religious issues. Whether or not it received the response that such a
substantial document deserved is a serious question that needs to be

GS, 44.

raised in the evaluation of such efforts by the churches, either singu-

larly or together.

Other important ecumenical documents will be highlighted below un-

der the discussion of economic and political content. But it is helpful to
note here that even if some very strong CST documents were signed
only in the name of ZEC, they were often immediately endorsed by
leaders of the other church bodies. This was true, for instance, in the
important ZEC statement, “Economics, Politics and Justice,” that was
issued in the wake of the 1991 “IMF riots,”8 attempted military coup,
and movement toward multi-partyism.

Inductive Approach

The philosophical/theological methodology that begins with the real-

ity experienced and moves to theoretical understandings is a mark of
contemporary CST around the world. It is an application of the “see,
judge and act” approach popularised in the social action movements
inspired by Canon Cardijn in the mid-1900s and the “pastoral circle”
approach that my colleague Joe Holland and I developed in the 1980s.9
Though sometimes recently disparaged in more conservative church
circles, this approach is certainly endorsed in the “Introductory State-
ment” of Gaudium et spes where reading the signs of the times to discern
the situation of women and men in the modern world is clearly de-
scribed as a starting point for the church’s mission.10

A good reading of the signs of the times, followed by a cogent social

analysis, was the method employed by the Zambian bishops in their
1993 letter on the effects of the IMF-World Bank imposed SAP reforms.
Entitled, “Hear the Cry of the Poor,” this letter begins with a story of a
woman facing immense problems of poverty, with the specific case of
poor health care offered by government facilities. Similarly, the Forti-
eth Anniversary letter referred to above does an inductive review of

The “IMF riots” were a week of citizenry rampage caused by removal of subsidies on
mealie meal, the maize basic food commodity, because of strict Structural Adjustment
Programme (SAP) reforms enforced by the World Bank and the IMF.
See Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice,
revised and enlarged edition, Marynoll, NY: Orbis Books, and Centre of Concern, 1983.
See also Revisiting the Pastoral Circle: A Critical Quest for Truth and Transformation,
eds. Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot, Rodrigo Mejia, Marynoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.
See GS, 4-10.

national history, its graces and sins, to discern the hopes and resolu-
tions for the future.

The inductive approach praised by Gaudium et spes is facilitated by

the structure of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP)
in Zambia. Over 250 parishes around the country have local CCJP
teams, well trained in CST, social analysis and political advocacy. By
feeding in their local experiences, these groups enable the national
Commission to prepare very good annual statements on the govern-
ment’s national budgets, with recommendations for a set of more pro-
poor, pro-justice priorities in policies.11

Consultative Fashion

We all know that pastoral statements are usually not written by one
person, but by a committee of advisors and experts on a particular topic.
This assures the degree of technical and theological competence neces-
sary for the document to gain acceptance and have an influence. But
beyond the committee approach there is also an approach occasionally
used that involves wider public consultation. The consultative fashion
can be very creative, but can also be a bit contentious when different
points of view are heard from those who are solicited to offer input.

When I worked at the Center of Concern in Washington DC before

coming to Zambia in 1989, I saw three examples, two successful and one
unsuccessful, of an effective consultative fashion of developing CST.
The first two involved the production of pastoral letters by the US
Catholic Bishops on peace and on the economy, where insights were
gathered from hearings around the country on what should be said
about these important topics. This approach resulted in two letters that
serve as standards for excellent CST. The third example did not fair as
well. A letter on women in society and church, developed through the
same open hearing process, was halted by the Vatican, to the loss of
significant religious and social insights and responses.

The Zambian church’s experience has on occasion utilized the consul-

tative approach to make its CST more credible and more relevant. A
good example is the Bishops’ pastoral letter, “The Future Is Ours,”
published in 1992 at the start of the Third Republic, following multi-
party elections. In preparing the letter, ZEC requested the diocesan

Good information about the work of CCJP can be found on its website at <http://

offices to solicit suggestions and recommendations for the country’s key

policies in this new era. This resulted in a very good document. Besides
the expected political and economic discussions, one topic is raised
which, in my opinion, surfaced because of the consultative fashion. This
was the urging of all Zambians to be personally responsible and take up
hard work to move the country forward. This echoes the injunction of
Gaudium et spes for personal responsibility in the political order.12
Indeed, the future is ours!

In Zambia, a consultative fashion is also possible because of the in-

ductive approach utilized through the activities of the 250 local CCJP
groups. The national CCJP statements on the government’s budget,
mentioned immediately above, are effective because of consultation
with the local groups. In my opinion, wider consultation would have
helped improve some others statements such as those on family and on
abortion. I will return to that later in the discussion of content.

Practical and Policy Relevant

It is understandable that universal church statements (e.g., encycli-

cals, decrees of Councils and Synods) will usually be fairly general and
non-specific. Happily, Gaudium et spes does occasionally speak more
concretely and practically in some appropriate instances, for example in
discussion of “new forms of art . . . introduced into the sanctuary,”13
“gigantic rural estates . . . insufficiently cultivated,”14 “civic and politi-
cal education . . . painstakingly provided.”15

The Zambian CST has had to take up issues of daily concern for the
people and address larger topics that have consequences for the nation’s
future. While repeating the caution of Gaudium et spes about politics
and the church,16 the leaders of the Zambian church have not hesitated
to be quite practical and policy relevant when addressing key economic
and political issues. This is done not to lay down laws that all Catholics
must follow but to introduce into the public discourse very specific
topics that have great significance for the common good of society. Two
good examples are “Hear the Cry of the Poor” (1993) and “Let My People
Go” (2004). The first spoke practically about a mechanism for price

GS, 75.
GS, 62.
GS, 71.
GS, 75.
GS, 76.

control to limit the impact of spiraling costs on the poor (a policy un-
acceptable to the IMF and World Bank because of interference in the
free market); the second urged a policy of a popular Constituent As-
sembly to be adopted to deal with the new Constitution (a point opposed
by the President because of possible infringement on his powers).

Another example of practicality and policy relevance in CST is the

work of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) on a
monthly “Basic Needs Basket” (BNB).17 This BNB provides data that
highlights the great gap between what is required to meet basic needs
for a family of six (currently around USD 210.00) and what employed
workers take home as pay (currently ranging for most civil servants, for
example, from between USD 50.00 to USD 150.00). This very specific
information is used in policy advocacy campaigns for improved wages,
nutritional adequacy for ARV recipients, agricultural inputs, attention
to gender differentials, etc. And all of this within a CST framework for
sustainable development!

Values Approach

While it is obviously true that all CST is about values, it is sometimes

important to stress that explicit attention to values is more effective—
both pedagogically and politically—than frequent references to “quota-
tions” from papal encyclicals and other church documents. This is no
way lessens the authority of official documents, but simply makes the
obvious point that it is for the most part the values espoused that make
the difference and not the authority cited. Indeed, it is the set of values
that provide CST’s power to clarify, motivate and sustain in the struggle
for great justice, development, peace and the integrity of creation. A
good set of values drawn from the CST can be found in introductory
material of the latest edition of the very popular book, Catholic Social
Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret.18

In the Zambian picture, constant reference is important to the values

of (1) human dignity (e.g., what happens to workers with families when

The JCTR is a project of the Zambia-Malawi Province of the Society of Jesus.
Working in close collaboration with the ZEC and CCJP, it considers itself a faith-based
organisation “promoting faith and justice.” The author of this paper is the current
Director. Website <http:// www.jctr.org.zm>.
See Edward P. DeBerri and James Hug, with Peter J. Henriot and Michael J.
Schultheis, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, fourth revised and ex-
panded edition, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, and Washington, DC: Center of Concern,
2003, pp. 18-34.

a company is privatised?), (2) community (how can we justify an ever-

growing gap between rich and poor?), (3) the option for the poor (e.g.,
how can the views of the majority poor influence constitutional devel-
opment?), and (4) integrity of creation (e.g., will new industries violate
our fragile ecological situation?). The CST of the church in Zambia—
documents and in actions—has clearly emphasised these values over
the years. The examples already cited in this paper demonstrate that

A new institutional commitment to the values approach is the estab-

lishment a few years ago of the African Forum on Catholic Social Teach-
ing (AFCAST).19 With a current working group of a dozen CST practi-
tioners (teachers, church officials, activists) from countries in southern
and eastern Africa, AFCAST promotes study and implementation of the
values—principles, norms, standards, ideals—of CST. Its commitment
to promoting social justice is grounded in the belief that the CST pro-
vides a value-added dimension to public policy discussions, debates and
decisions. Recent topics focused on are issues of great relevance to Af-
rica: elections, poverty eradication, land reform, corruption, integrity of
creation and church-state relations.

3. Content

There are of course many topics that might be highlighted in this

section. But I choose five that are useful in the work of the JCTR and
the CCJP that I have personally experienced. These topics are clearly
developed in the sections of Gaudium et spes under consideration and
in the documents and activities of the church in Zambia.

Political Democracy

As mentioned earlier in the paper, Zambia is a struggling democracy,

trying to shape both the institutions and the attitudes that were sadly
lacking in the first 27 years of our nation’s history. When defeated in
multi-party elections in 1991, the founding president, Kenneth
Kaunda, stepped down in an exemplary fashion. The second president,
Frederick Chiluba, was forced to step down ten years later, when civil
society (led by the churches) rebuffed his efforts to change the consti-
tution in order to secure a third term. (Chiluba is now under arrest and

AFCAST is directed by Dr. David Kaulemu and is based at Arrupe College (Jesuit
philosophical college) of the University of Zimbabwe, with address: P.O. Box MP 320,
Harare, Zimbabwe.

on trial for “plunder of the national economy” through a series of cor-

rupt activities.) Elected third president in a 2001 election fraught with
irregularities,20 Levy Mawanawasa is in conflict with opposition par-
ties and civil society about his constitutional reform process. The
church has played a key role in each of these moments in the political
history of Zambia.21 Indeed, even before Independence, the Catholic
bishops (all ex-patriates) issued two strong pastoral statements chal-
lenging the non-democratic rule of the English colonial powers. From
early days of the new Republic, statements have been made that call
Zambians to greater political responsibility and that challenge the gov-
ernment to institute more effective democratic arrangements.

One interesting development can be noted. In a 1974 letter on “The

Tenth Anniversary of Independence,” the Bishops encourage Christians
to cooperate with the government in promoting social welfare but “do
not specifically urge Church members to be politically involved as a way
of promoting justice.”22 However, in the 1987 ecumenical letter, “Chris-
tian Liberation, Justice and Development,” there is explicit call for all
Zambian Christians “to involve themselves more activity in the political
life of the Country.”23 This is certainly more in keeping with the em-
phasis in Gaudium et spes to take up more effective political respon-
sibility24 and the call of the African Synod for Christians to be engaged
in the democratic struggle and even a call for “holy politicians.”25

By many, the church was called the “midwife” for the birth of multi-
partyism in the 1991 elections. Education, prayers, election monitoring,
challenges: all these activities marked the church’s presence at that key
moment. And these activities have continued and expanded since then.
The stress placed by Gaudium et spes on civic and political education26
has been responded to in the works of the CCJP (e.g., through its 250
local committees) and JCTR (e.g., through its CST homily guidelines
and annual calendars). Another significant contribution to this educa-

Only in mid-February 2005, over three years after his December 2001 election, did
the Zambian Supreme Court uphold the legitimacy of Mwanawasa’s election against
petitions filed by several losing candidates.
A very good study detailing this history is Hugo Hinfellaar, M.Afr., History of the
Catholic Church in Zambia: 1895-1995, Lusaka: Bookworld Publishers, 2004
Komakoma, op. cit., p. 88.
GS, 157.
GS, 75.
See Ecclesia in Africa, n. 111-112.
GS, 73 and 75.

tion comes from the five church-sponsored community radio stations.

To be honest, these stations have sometimes faced political persecution
(even threats of state prosecution!) by trying to communicate openly
and fairly about the political situation in the country.

Economic Development

We must acknowledge that Gaudium et spes is pre-Populorum pro-

gressio and pre-UNDP Human Development reports. As such, it does
not bring out so very forcefully or fully the new thinking about sustain-
able and integral development. But it certainly does lay down the foun-
dations for that thinking, especially in its discussion of socio-economic
life, which opens with the statement: “In the socio-economic realm, too,
the dignity and total vocation of the human person must be honoured
and advanced along with the welfare of society as a whole. For the
human person is the source, the center, and the purpose of all socio-
economic life.”27 And, of course, today we would place that human per-
son in the community of creation, with greater respect for the God-given
dignity of the natural environment.

I believe that particularly relevant to the Zambian situation is the

discussion in Gaudium et spes of (1) economic resources that should be
put to the use of development of all the people, even with necessary
state action, (2) narrowing the growing gap between rich and poor, (3)
agricultural progress to be emphasised, (4) workers’ decent wages and
good conditions to be provided (with the proper role of trade unions),
and (5) the common purpose of created things qualifying the under-
standing of property.28 As indicated already, the church in Zambia has
since earliest days been actively involved in economic development ef-
forts with and for the people. Local parish training programmes, tech-
nical schools, agricultural projects, cooperative schemes, housing proj-
ects: these and many other practical efforts have marked the church’s
history—with varying levels of success.29 But since Independence these
programmes have been supplemented by advocacy efforts to assure
better government policies for effective development. Pastoral letters

GS, 63.
See GS, 64-71.
2005 marked the centenary of Jesuit presence in Zambia and one of the earliest
Jesuits, Father Joseph Moreau, is known for introducing the oxen plough in the south-
ern region of the country and revolutionizing maize production. See Edward P. Murphy,
S.J., ed., A History of the Jesuits in Zambia: A Mission Becomes a Province, Nairobi:
Paulines, p. 149.

(many of them ecumenical), CCJP statements, local diocesan and par-

ish advocacy programmes and cooperation with wider civil society ef-
forts have all contributed to the push for more equitable socio-economic
development, especially relating to Zambian government priorities.

But the impact of wider international policies has not been neglected.
As the consequences of IMF and World Bank neo-liberal policies be-
came clear in the lives of the ordinary Zambian, the church raised a
clarion call to set as the evaluation criteria of the imposed economic
reforms one clear norm: “they must serve all the people.”30 The devel-
opment model of liberalisation, privatisation, curtailment of social ser-
vices and overall retreat of the state has not met that criteria in the
Zambian experience.31 That was made very clear indeed in the 1993
pastoral letter, “Hear the Cry of the Poor,” and repeated as recently as
the 2004 ecumenical letter for the Fortieth Anniversary of Indepen-
dence, “Looking to the Future with Hope.”

The Jubilee 2000 Zambia campaign was launched in 1998 by a joint

pastoral statement, “Cancel Zambia’s Debt!” There it was made clear
that the debt could not be paid back because that would be economically
destructive, would not be paid back because that would be politically
destabilising, and should not be paid back because that would be ethi-
cally discriminatory—hurting the poor the most.32 The debt campaign
is a good example of churches and civil society cooperating together for
economic development.

Cultural Questions

African cultures are many and varied. In Zambia, culture is a key to

development and national unity. As Gaudium et spes clearly put it, “It
is a fact bearing on the very person of the human that the person can
come to an authentic and full humanity only through culture, that is,
through the cultivation of natural goods and values.”33 In Gaudium et
spes the right to culture is balanced with the need to create harmony
with genuine Christian formation.

“The Future is Ours,” 25.
See Peter Henriot, “Retreat of the State: Political Consequences and Social Impli-
cations for Zambia,” Trocaire Development Review 1997, pp. 39-60.
GS, 9.
GS, 53.

This effort at balance is at the heart of the task of inculturation:

making our faith understanding and expression authentically Chris-
tian and genuinely African. (It is noteworthy that the concept of incul-
turation is not used in the discussion of culture in Gaudium et spes.)
The Zambian bishops devoted several paragraphs to inculturation in
their 1991 pastoral letter on the church’s centenary, “You Shall Be My
Witnesses.” Noting considerable progress in this task since the days of
the early missionaries, the bishops called for further research and ac-
tion to move forward.

An important example of research and action touching culture in the

Zambian church is the recent product of the JCTR’s Task Force on
Inculturation, a small pamphlet for use in small Christian communities
entitled, “Traditional Healing: A Pastoral Challenge for the Catholic
Church in Zambia” (2004). The pamphlet, following the methodology of
the pastoral circle, gets communities to recount their personal experi-
ences of traditional healing, to analyse why this healing is still very
popular, to reflect on the faith meaning of this practice, and to respond
with good guidelines for approaching healers.

Another area of great importance in discussions of culture in Zambia

is the role of women. “You Shall Be My Witnesses” devotes a section to
the topic, asking how women are treated in families, work places, public
life and the Church, and what the Church should do to promote greater
justice for women. Related to women’s issues—but of course, much
wider—are the topics of family and of abortion. The fact that the Afri-
can Synod called the church “the family of God” has prompted much
reflection on the family. A 1997 pastoral letter from the Catholic bish-
ops, “The Church as a Caring Family,” tied this concept to the life of the
small Christian community.

Zambian law is quite liberal on the matter of abortion. A major bish-

ops’ letter in 1997, “Choose Life,” addressed the topic in a direct and
pastoral fashion. Indeed, there is a story behind this document. It first
was written quite narrowly, emphasising primarily the sanctity of hu-
man life and therefore the absolute evil of abortion. The second version,
written after wider consultation, clearly maintains the church’s teach-
ing on no abortion, but promotes a positive approach to dealing with
the causes of abortion, offering help to mothers, and creating greater
respect in society for women’s rights. And its tone is more compassion-
ate that that of the first version. A good example of what consultation
can do for faithful construction and effective communication of CST

Training Programmes
As noted earlier, civic education is stressed in the political discussions
in Gaudium et spes. But good civic education requires good civic edu-
cators. And the Zambian church has made a commitment to good train-
ing of pastoral agents to communicate the values of justice, peace, de-
velopment and the integrity of creation. Courses on CST are mandatory
in all seminary instruction—I have personally taught in these courses.
Special workshops on CST are provided for women and men in forma-
tion for religious life. The purpose of this focus on pastoral agents is to
equip them both to communicate the CST values and also to encourage
the efforts of others involved in promoting these values through justice
and peace work.
A recent bishops’ pastoral letter, “Empowerment through Education”
(2004), highlights the values that are essential to the centre of the
Catholic education system. Justice is one of these central values and the
students must be educated to know the social problems and to act to
change the unjust situations in Zambia.
One of the best instruments for promotion of the CST values in Zam-
bia has been a well organised and well trained network of justice and
peace committees throughout the country. Members of these local
groups, usually based in parishes, are required to go through five
phases of training: (1) spirituality of justice (including CST), (2) re-
search methods, (3) social analysis, (4), social action, and (5) evaluation.
The national CCJP office and the JCTR office are staffed by highly
competent women and men, able to do excellent research, make clear
presentations, and interact effectively with government and church
personnel at national and international levels.
I am undoubtedly prejudiced, but I believe that Zambia has the best
organised and trained justice and peace set-up on the African continent
(comparing favourably with others outside Africa). But one area that we
have not adequately developed through training programmes is a wider
outreach to laity in general and in particular to those in influential
positions. We need to do more of this. One significant event has been a
more or less regular annual “retreat day” for Catholic Members of Par-
liament and other significant national leaders. This has provided ex-
posure to CST values in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection—
something much appreciated by participants.
Model of Church
It is true to say that ecclesiology (the theology of the church) is key to
CST. Of course the great document Gaudium et spes is at its basic

foundation an ecclesiological document. For to speak of the “church in

the modern world” is to speak of a particular kind of church, a specific
character of Christian community. Accordingly, Gaudium et spes says
clearly: “That is why this community realises that it is truly and inti-
mately linked with humankind and its history.”34 The church in Zam-
bia has been influenced by this vision of Gaudium et spes and by the
vision of “church as family” expressed by the African Synod.35

It is for this reason that a church that incorporates promotion of

justice and peace into the task of integral evangelisation would react so
negatively to the declaration of Zambian as a “Christian Nation” made
by President Chiluba shortly after his 1991 inauguration. It is not clear
exactly what his intention was, other than to gain political mileage with
more conservative church members. But the letter “The Future Is Ours”
expressed strongly the conviction that “a nation is not Christian by
declaration but by deeds”—especially the deeds of justice and concern
for the poor.36 And in 1995, during the debates over constitutional
amendments, the ZEC and the CCZ issued a joint statement opposing
the inclusion of the Christian nation declaration in the constitution.
Significantly, their opposition was rebuffed, and the Catholic Bishops
have again, in the 2003 Pastoral Letter on the constitutional review,
“Let My People Go,” stated their opposition to this declaration, as re-
ligiously and politically untenable.

4. Lessons

To really become a “Church in the Modern World” requires more than

a brilliant document, no matter how theologically solid, pastorally ori-
ented and politically sensitive that document might be. Certainly the
many and varied papers presented at this “Call to Justice” Conference
will demonstrate the truth of that statement. An essential part of the
growth into a community responsive to the “joys and hopes, sorrows and
anxieties” of our sisters and brothers is a learning from the lessons all
of us gain from experience. What I have attempted in this paper is to
highlight the Zambian experience by noting the church’s efforts to put
the CST into daily life. I believe that reflection on some aspects of the

GS, 1.
For an very insightful analysis of this concept by a young African theologian, see
A.E. Orobator, S.J., The Church as Family: African Ecclesiology in Its Social Context,
Nairobi: Paulines, 2000.
GS, 40.

methodology and content of that experience can indeed offer some im-
portant lessons for the church universal.

Reading the Signs of the Times

Gaudium et spes makes clear at the outset of its discussion the duty
of the church “to read the signs of the times and interpret them in the
light of the Gospel.”37 This duty demands a serious study of the world
in which we live, the expectations that people have and the significant
characteristics that mark it in the unfolding of history. Without such a
commitment to discern God’s action in history around us, the church
has neither ability nor legitimacy to share something it would call
“Good News” with people.

This has surely been the experience of the Zambian church. The fact
that the church is seen—by members and non-members alike—as an
important actor in the life of the country is, in my opinion, largely due
to its service of the people in relevant word and deed. Surely the Catho-
lic Church in Zambia has had a mixed history of grace and sin. Our
church may have a divine foundation but it also is a human institution!
As such, it can and does face difficulties and fall into mistakes.

But the fact is that the Zambian church has not faced some of the
difficulties or fallen into some of the mistakes other churches in Africa
(and elsewhere!) have experienced. Difficulties and mistakes like trib-
alism, withdrawal of leadership from public life, over-zealous involve-
ment in an other-worldly religiosity, fixation on narrow personal moral
issues to the neglect of wider social moral issues, etc. The CST of the
Zambian church reveals a serious attempt to read the signs of the times
and this surely has had its effect in enabling the Zambian church to be
a true “church in the modern world” according to the letter and spirit of
Gaudium et spes.

Intelligent Research

More than simply reading the signs of the times, the church needs a
commitment to serious investigation through scholarly research of
what is happening and how the church can respond. The task of being
prophetic is not only helped by good study but the lack of that good
study can indeed hinder a truly effective prophetic voice. No one lis-

GS, 4.

tens—or should listen—to shoddy analysis or unwise pronouncements,

however well intentioned.

The experience of the Zambian church has shown that intelligent

research does make a difference. This is evident in the work that sev-
eral scholars—laity, sisters, priests—have done on issues of importance
in Zambia today such as theological reflection, inculturation, education,
HIV/AIDS, gender issues, church history, socio-economic problems, etc.
It is also shown in the commitment to place well-trained staff at the
ZEC secretariat, in the offices of the Catholic Centre for Justice, De-
velopment and Peace, and in the team of the Jesuit Centre for Theo-
logical Reflection.

What this results in is a respect that is paid to the statements coming

from the church, even if there is disagreement. For example, the CCJP’s
annual budget analyses seriously challenge the government’s priorities,
but key government officials come to the forums to debate the findings
and recommendations. The JCTR’s critique of the IMF and World Bank
proposals for debt relief (such as the HIPC initiative) get widely circu-
lated nationally and internationally and taken into account when
evaluations of these programmes are made.

An example of the value of intelligent research on a highly controver-

sial topic is what has occurred in the on-going debate over the refusal of
the Zambian government to allow the importation of genetically modi-
fied foods (popularly referred to as “GMOs”) into the country. This
refusal has gone on during serious food shortages and in the face of
immense pressure by the government of the United States of America.
There has even been considerable dialogue with some offices of the
Vatican that have tended to show a more favourable stance toward
GMOs. But after its own research, in cooperation with others nationally
and internationally, the JCTR has supported the Zambian govern-
ment’s position as more in accord with clear CST principles, reliable
scientific data and sound economic analysis.

International Cooperation

One of the strengths of the church in Africa in building a good CST

foundation has been good international cooperation. This has involved
sharing of information, programmes, materials, personnel, etc. This
has occurred not only at levels outside of Africa (e.g., with the Vatican’s
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and with development and
advocacy groups) but also at the African continental and regional levels.

The Zambian church is a member of AMECEA, the regional confer-

ence of bishops for eastern Africa. But Zambian representatives also
participate in the programmes of IMBISA, the regional conference of
bishops for southern Africa. A good example of cooperation was in
the preparations for the African Synod that met in Rome in 1994.
There was very good exchange among bishops and consultants in the
AMECEA region, which meant that the AMECEA bishops went to the
Rome well prepared and confident in their presentations on the Synod’s
key topics. These bishops played an influential role in the debates,
decisions and documents of the African Synod. Another example of
international cooperation that benefits the Zambian church is the work
of AFCAST. As mentioned earlier in this paper, AFCAST strives to
make the CST relevant to policies that profoundly affect the develop-
ment of people in Africa. As this organization matures, it will continue
to assist the church in Zambia to be a “church in the modern world.”

Justice in the Church

I imagine that my experience is not unusual: every time I give a

lecture or workshop on the church’s call to promote justice, I receive a
question like, “Does this also mean promote justice in the church?” Of
course I can answer with a very clear yes, recalling the strong words of
the 1971 Synod of Bishops to the effect that those who would teach
justice to others must first be seen to be just themselves!

The theme of justice in the church is certainly hinted at in the dis-

cussion in Gaudium et spes of the help which the church strives to give
to human activity through Christians.38 There it is recognized more in
a negative fashion, however, by noting that defects in the church hinder
the communication of the gospel. But there is no full discussion of the
witness of justice that the church is obliged to give in social matters
within its own organization if it is to authentically and effectively work
for justice in the wider society. This message was more clearly devel-
oped by the 1971 Synod. And it is a point picked up by the African
Synod with the message that justice must start within God’s family

Within the Zambian church, the issues of justice are not all that
unique. The questions that usually arise are around wages paid to
church workers, treatment of women (including the role of women in

GS, 43.
See Ecclesia in Africa, 111.

decision-making places), participation of laity in shaping priorities in

the church (through councils, etc.), and the principle of subsidiarity
that recognises the legitimate role of the local church. Many of the
statements coming from the bishops over the years touch the issue of
justice in the church either directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly.
But I believe it can fairly be said that there is need for greater focus on
this topic if the church is to retain credibility in its prophetic role in
society at large.

5. Conclusion

The Zambian experience of being a “church in the modern world of

Africa” points to an on-going effort to build a Christian community that
has a message at once credible and relevant. Credible in that its mes-
sage can be believed because the church tries to practise it itself, and
relevant in that its message relates to real life concerns of the African
people. Truly, the “joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties” of the
people are our own!
Gaudium et Spes and Catholic
Ethics in Post-Industrial Economics:
Indirect Employers and Globilization

Albino Barrera

I. Introduction

Globalization has highlighted a well-known, unaddressed problem in

economic life: What do we do with the unintended consequences of
market operations? This is not even to mention the even more intrac-
table question of who has responsibility for rectifying the ill effects of
market exchange. Pope John Paul II’s notion of the indirect employer in
Laborem exercens is an important conceptual tool in this regard. Un-
fortunately, this 1981 social encyclical does not develop in greater depth
who precisely is an indirect employer, and why. All it does is to define
the indirect employer as anyone who is in any way responsible for
sustaining or enabling the relationship between the direct employer
and the employees.1 John Paul II’s concern is, of course, neither original
nor unique. In appealing to the First World to be more solicitous of the
poor countries in his 1967 encyclical Populorum progressio,2 Paul VI
already alludes to the wealthy nations’ duty of providing a fair, if
higher, price for the exports of Third World nations. In effect, First
World consumers are indirect employers of workers in developing coun-

The notion of the indirect employer goes beyond religious social

thought. Recall Cesar Chavez’s call for the boycott of grapes in his fight
for better working conditions for migrant agricultural workers. Or, re-
member the worldwide grassroots movement to curtail the consump-
tion of Nestle products until the company changed its marketing prac-
tices of infant formula in poor countries. More recently, students
succeeded in improving the working conditions of overseas sub-
contracting manufacturers of college and brand-name apparel and

Albino Barrera is Professor of Economics and Humanities at Providence College.

John Paul II. 1981. Laborem exercens, 77-81.
Paul VI. 1967. Populorum progressio, 47.



souvenir products. The same is true for the “fair price” campaign that
has sought to pay coffee farmers a living wage for their crops.3 The
common point in these examples is consumers’ acknowledgment of their
responsibility in ensuring that they are not party to sustaining morally
reprehensible working arrangements no matter how remote their ma-
terial cooperation may be. While these moral sensibilities are not the
norm in the larger culture, they are nonetheless heartening because
they are evidence of our ability to see and recognize ourselves in each
other and to see in others a brother or a sister eking out a living and
pursuing similar hopes and aspirations for a better life.

II. Globalization

Global economic integration poses an unusual challenge to the notion

of the indirect employer. Globalization greatly strengthens the eco-
nomic ties (and therefore the attendant obligations) that bind people
together even as it (globalization) makes the satisfaction of these duties
that much more difficult. Let us examine both of these developments.

A. Ever Tighter Web of Indirect Employer Relationships

Globalization strengthens indirect employer relationships because

(1) we have become more interdependent, (2) we have the benefit of
superior access to more complete information, and (3) we are in a better
position to provide real assistance to others.

First, global economic integration magnifies the process of socializa-

tion that had been described in Mater et magistra4 over forty years ago.
People have become much more interdependent especially when it
comes to economic affairs. The whole world has become a single work-
shop in which parts for many essential products (such as airplanes,
cars, computers, and other electronic goods) come from all over the
world. The same phenomenon is true for services given the increased
reliance on offshore outsourcing for back-office operations, software

See Seth, S. Prakash. 1994. Multinational Corporations and the Impact of Public
Advocacy on Corporate Strategy: Nestle and the Infant Formula Controversy. Issues in
Business Ethics, Vol 6. Boston: Kluwer Academic; Starnes, Richard. 2002. “Coffee Com-
panies Roasted for Squeezing Farmers: Oxfam Hopes to Shame Buyers Into Providing
Consistently Fair Price,” The Ottawa Citizen, September 18: A7; Featherstone, Liza
and United Students Against Sweatshops. 2002. Students Against Sweatshops. London
and New York: Verso.
John XXIII. 1961. Mater et magistra, 59-60.

programming, product design, and other routine operations. Econo-

mists have described this as the slicing up of goods and services into
ever more refined divisions of labor in an effort to squeeze every ounce
of efficiency and cost savings. The immediate benefit of such interna-
tional vertical specialization is the increase in real incomes enjoyed by
consumers worldwide given the decline in the cost of goods and services.
This is not even to mention the much-needed employment opportunities
created in emerging nations. The moral implication of this is that we
have truly become each other’s indirect employers because we are in
effect consumers of each other’s work effort and output.

Second, an essential feature of globalization is technological change,

in particular, information and communication technologies. It has been
said that all the current fuss about globalization is much ado about
nothing because we already had an integrated global economy in the
quarter century leading up to the First World War.5 However, one must
remember that twentieth-century globalization is distinctive because of
its accompanying “death of distance.”6 Not only have we continued to
enjoy great strides in bringing down transportation costs, but we have
also achieved unimaginable cost reductions in communications and in-
formation processing and storage. In other words, the death of distance
in the twentieth century is not so much due to cheap transportation as
it is because of the widespread availability of low-cost information and
communication. The moral significance of this development is that we
can no longer plead ignorance to the plight and the dismal working
conditions of workers overseas. We have the means to keep ourselves
informed of the lives of people halfway across the globe.

Third, globalization has empowered people worldwide to come to each

other’s assistance wherever they may be or however great the physical
distance that may separate them. Better communications, enhanced
information sharing, improved transportation, and higher real per
capita incomes mutually reinforce each other in imbuing people with
real and viable capabilities in extending aid to each other. We have seen
this new-found capacity at work in times of natural or man-made di-
sasters as in the December 2004 Asian tsunami tragedy and the Darfur

Hirst, Paul and Grahame Thompson. 1999. Globalization in Question: The Inter-
national Economy and the Possibilities of Governance. Second edition. Cambridge, UK:
Cairncross, Frances. 1997. The Death of Distance: How the Communications Revo-
lution is Changing our Lives. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

In summary, global economic integration has greatly strengthened

our mutual obligations as each other’s indirect employers given our
extensive economic interdependence, our greater awareness of one an-
other’s living conditions, and our enhanced capacity to come to each
other’s assistance. Globalization has made us even more responsible for
our mutual well-being.

B. More Difficult Obligations to Fill

Even as it further reinforces the web of indirect employer relation-

ships in the postindustrial economy, globalization ironically also makes
it that much more difficult to fulfill these attendant duties because of
the increased complexity in assigning responsibility. The market’s
much-touted allocative efficiency is effected through a continuous pro-
cess of price adjustments that shape the subsequent behavior and de-
cisions of economic agents.7 Unfortunately, there are collateral effects
to these price changes including those that inflict harm on unsuspect-
ing and unprepared market participants. These requisite localized
price and quantity adjustments precipitate wide ripple effects on the
rest of the economy.8

Even the most ardent proponents of globalization acknowledge the

need to mitigate the harmful unintended consequences of market op-
erations. However, the difficulty lies in identifying who has responsi-
bility for these corrective measures, to what degree, and why. An ac-
curate assignation of responsibilities requires an explicit identification
and validation of liabilities. This is not an easy task because market
operations and outcomes do not, as a general rule, readily lend them-
selves to measurements of formal and material cooperation (both proxi-
mate and remote) for the harms done.

This dilemma is best illustrated by pointing to some of the more

contentious economic debates of our day. To what extent are US con-
sumers (greatly benefiting from inexpensive imports) liable for the
plight of laid-off US manufacturing workers? And how about the fresh
college graduates who are just entering the labor market and are un-
able to secure jobs because of international outsourcing and the trans-
fer of capital to low-cost manufacturing sites in Asia and Latin

Thus, excess demand is eliminated by a rise in prices that increase quantity sup-
plied and decrease quantity demanded.
International Monetary Fund. 1997. World Economic Outlook. Washington, DC:
International Monetary Fund.

America? Is there any obligation to provide them relief? If so, whose

duty is it to provide such aid?

The quotas of the Multifiber Agreement that had been in force since
1974 ended on January 1, 2005, and it is feared that China will domi-
nate the worldwide textile and apparel industries to the detriment of
poor countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is feared that over a
million jobs will be lost in Bangladesh alone where apparel goods con-
stitute 80 % of this poor country’s exports. Who has responsibility for
those who will be adversely affected by such liberalization: the Ban-
gladeshi, Chinese, EU, or US governments? Is there any residual obli-
gation to provide adjustment assistance considering that this liberal-
ization had been planned well ahead of time since 1994 and even had
a phased-in period of increasingly free markets? Is this looming
major disruption in the Bangladeshi labor markets the fault of its own
government for not having done enough in the past ten years to take
the necessary preemptive economic reforms to remain competitive in
international markets even without having to hide behind protective

The rapid and unusual spike in oil prices in 2004 and 2005 wreaked
enormous damage in non-oil producing Third World economies and
inflicted hardship on its citizens, a vast number of whom are already
living below $1 a day. These emerging nations had to expend much
more of their scarce foreign exchange reserves for oil imports. Who has
responsibility for providing relief for this economic shock: the Chinese
for the large jump in their oil consumption given their white-hot eco-
nomic growth or Americans driving gas-guzzling SUVs?

The decline in the value of the dollar has inflicted economic hardship
on many EU exporters. Who has responsibility for providing assistance
to those who have been unfavorably affected by a weakening dollar: the
Chinese for undervaluing their currency relative to the US dollar, the
US government for its uncontrolled budget deficit, US consumers for
accumulating such record trade deficits, or the OECD countries who
have simply relied on the US economy to provide the necessary con-
sumption demand to prevent the world from sliding into recession? In
a similar vein, who is culpable for the numerous international financial
contagions of the last decade: currency speculators, emerging market
governments, the IMF, or the global commercial banking sector?

Many more examples can be cited. These cases all illustrate a feature
of the market: A change in one sector occasions a corresponding reac-
tion somewhere else in the economy. Every element of the economy is

somehow related to everything else in the market. These examples also

highlight an important downside of globalization: Market participants
should expect to endure economic disruptions that are much more dam-
aging in their impact, that are generated from even the remote corners
of the global market, and that occur with much greater frequency and
with little warning. And because there are often multiple shocks and
erroneous economic decisions that mutually compound each other, it is
often difficult to track causation and to identify who is ultimately re-
sponsible for rectifying adverse economic changes. This is not even to
mention the need to distinguish the obligations proximate from remote
indirect employers. Establishing accountability for market processes
and outcomes is an unmanageable task. Globalization makes it even
more difficult to assign obligations with precision because of the in-
creased speed and complexity of market transactions.

III. Indeterminate Philosophical and Political Liabilities

Outside of theological circles, there are few conceptual and practical

aids to resolving the problem of the indirect employer in a globalized
economy. One of these is the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and its list of social and economic rights. These human
rights are important in identifying that all-important economic base-
line beneath which no human being will be allowed to sink. Unfortu-
nately, economic rights are not universally accepted because of their yet
unresolved conceptual difficulties.9 Unlike civil and political rights that
can be satisfied through noninterference (negative rights/freedoms),
economic rights often require an interpersonal transfer of real re-
sources (positive rights/freedoms). This means that we must resolve
questions, such as, to what extent do we furnish ameliorative transfers,
what do we provide, to whom, and, most important, who is the holder of
such an obligation. This indeterminacy limits the utility of economic
rights in resolving the issue of the indirect employer. Some would even
go so far as to argue that it makes no sense to speak of human rights at
all if they are unenforceable.10

The question of the indirect employer’s culpability in economic

exchange has also been examined in the philosophical literature.

For example, see Trimiew, Darryl. 1997. God Bless the Child That Got Its Own: The
Economic Rights Debate. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press for a survey of the debate sur-
rounding economic rights.
See, for example, Cranston, Maurice. 1967. “Human Rights, Real and Supposed.”
in Political Theory and the Rights of Man. Edited by D. D. Raphael. London: MacMillan.

Zanardi11 (1990) deals with the problem head-on and provides an ex-
cellent exposition on the formidable philosophical hurdles that must be
surmounted in order to make the notion of the indirect employer work.
In the first place, one must remember that the indirect employer is only
one economic agent in a vast and complex system characterized by a
recurring dynamic. To establish blameworthiness for the ripple effects
of an economic decision, it is important to be able to establish the link
and the impact of a particular economic agent’s actions on a particular
market outcome. This is not an easy undertaking in an often frenetic
and highly fluid market. Second, one must remember that the economic
agent is only a small part of a much broader context and wields abso-
lutely little control, if any, over the economy’s unending circular flow of
goods and services. These “sequence of events” will flow uninterrupted
with or without this or that particular economic agent. Consequently, it
is very difficult to hold particular market participants accountable for
particular market outcomes. Indeed, there is much philosophical work
that must be done before we can make the notion of the indirect em-
ployer meaningful and useful.

We could compensate for these conceptual deficiencies through mu-

tual accord. Unfortunately, we are also wanting in this regard. The
rapid evolution of our globalized economy has simply outstripped the
ability of the international community of nations to set up multilateral
institutions that can rectify some of the more disagreeable features of
market operations. While the World Trade Organization (WTO) is an
important first step in providing a forum where competing claims can
be adjudicated peaceably and where nations voluntarily surrender part
of their sovereignty for the sake of the global common good, there are
many other areas in need of international agreement and action if we
are to curb the excesses of the market.

Take the case of foreign exchange speculation. As of 1995, the daily

turnover was $1.2 trillion, and it is estimated that only a small fraction
of this was directly related to facilitating the trade of goods and services
in the global economy.12 The rest was trading for profit-making. It is
widely acknowledged that such speculative trading in foreign curren-
cies has been responsible for the self-fulfilling currency crises endured
by many emerging nations. The poor in these countries bear the brunt
of the cost of such currency disruptions because of the resultant cuts in

Zanardi, William. 1990. “Consumer Responsibility from a Social Systems Perspec-
tive,” International Journal of Applied Philosophy. 8:57-66.
Data is from International Monetary Fund (1997, Table 15, 64).

social spending to restore macroeconomic balances. A possible solution

to such a problem has been long known–the Tobin Tax in which short-
term currency traders are assessed a surcharge to curtail their specu-
lative transactions. An added advantage to such a tax is that its enor-
mous revenues can be used for development assistance. The problem
with this proposal is that making the Tobin tax feasible requires po-
litical will and courage on the part of the major economies. No serious
effort is currently underway to establish an international mechanism
for this corrective tax. The same deficiency is true when it comes to
establishing a global body to deal with sovereign bankruptcies.

Beyond finance, there are no multilateral institutions to handle the

concerns of people who believe that globalization is a race to the bottom.
In particular, we have yet to address (1) the problem of the commons in
the case of over-fishing and global climate change, (2) tax competition,
and (3) the erosion of labor and environmental standards. In addition,
we should also remember the continuing damage wrought on poor na-
tions by OECD agricultural subsidies. In all these cases, there is need
for global extra-market interventions that are possible only at a supra-
national level. The problems of living up to the duties of indirect em-
ployer relationships in the globalized economy cannot be resolved in the
absence of a credible and effective multilateral capacity to rectify defi-
cient market outcomes and processes.

IV. Contributions from Gaudium et Spes

I claim that Gaudium et spes has much to contribute in operational-

izing the notion of indirect employers in the face of such philosophical
and practical limitations in ameliorating the unintended consequences
of market operations. In particular, this pastoral constitution’s teach-
ings on the nature of the community and on the inseparability of the
personal and common good provide the foundational warrants and the
means with which to dispel the indeterminacy of obligations in indirect
employer relationships.

The first part of this pastoral constitution is a theological reflection on

the nature of the person and the human community. In contrast to
secular notions of the community as a contractual arrangement,
Gaudium et spes13 views the human community as familial in nature.
Recall that in the former, people are bound to each other by a social

Vatican Council II. 1965. Gaudium et spes. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul.

contract in which personal freedoms are voluntarily surrendered to an

overarching authority that prevents people from preying on each other
in a state of nature in which everyone is at war with everybody else. The
community is a human creation, the product of a rationality that con-
tains the problem of selfish and predatory behavior through self-
interested mutual accommodation and compromise.

The Second Vatican Council subscribes to a much more optimistic

anthropology and believes in the fundamental goodness of people. In-
stead of being undergirded by a rational social contract, the human
community comes with personhood itself. It is a constitutive part of
human nature. In other words, humanity is one family bound together
by a common filial relationship to God.

These two opposing conceptions of the human community have dif-

ferent ramifications for the nature of obligations. First, under Gaudium
et spes, we simply cannot walk away from our duties toward each other,
nor can we pick and choose whichever responsibilities we want to accept
or not. The bonds that tie us together are anchored deeply in human
nature; they are the unchangeable parameters of life that we simply
have to accept as givens as we strive to flourish. We cannot absolve
ourselves of what we owe to each other by simply choosing to withdraw
from the social contract. Natural obligations are permanent in a famil-
ial view of the community.

Second, a community based on a social contract is animated princi-

pally by justice. As a result, it seeks to give every person numbered in
its ranks his or her respective due based on strict measures defined by
the law. In contrast, a community that is viewed as a family is enliv-
ened by charity. Its overriding concern is that of self-giving and working
for the good of the others. Friendship, rather than the rule of law,
governs interpersonal relationships; it is unmeasured in what it

Third, the goal of a contractual community is the maintenance of the

public, juridic order. Tolerance is the primary virtue it seeks to instill in
its membership. In contrast, a familial community seeks nothing less
than the common good in which there is a union of hearts and minds in
their quest to reach their shared end in God. As a result, far from being
in conflict with each other, the good of the individual and the commu-
nity are necessary conditions to each other. Neither can attain their
fullness without the other. Personal good and the good of the commu-
nity are distinct but inseparable. The human person instantiates the
common good.

Given these foundational warrants for the mutual obligations we owe

each other, Gaudium et spes dispels the ambiguities of indirect em-
ployer relationships, even with the complexities occasioned by global
economic integration. Recall that the difficulty of validating these dues
stems primarily from the failure to come up with precise measures in
the assignation of duties in terms of their addressees, content, and
strength. Less precision is called for under a familial view of community
because we are all responsible for each other as brothers and sisters,
regardless of whatever place or role we may fill in the common economic
life. This clears away the ambiguity when it comes to identifying the
addresses of economic obligations. Moreover, since friendship is never
measured in its self-giving, the inability to parcel out people’s dues in
their exact proportion fades away as a problem. Indeterminacy is not an
insurmountable problem for Gaudium et spes in living up to the obli-
gations we owe each other in indirect employer relationships.

It is best to end this exposition with an example of why Gaudium et

spes is distinctive in its contribution when it comes to actualizing our
economic obligations as each other’s indirect employers. Matusz and
Tarr (1999) examine the cost and the benefits of trade liberalization by
comparing the stream of future benefits enjoyed with the adjustment
costs incurred in the short run. The principal adjustment cost is, of
course, the disruption in the livelihoods of displaced workers. The
economy is deemed to be efficient and operating properly if social costs
(benefits) equal private costs (benefits). Policy interventions and cor-
rective remedies are called for only in market failures, that is, when
private and social costs (benefits) are not equal to each other. Observe
how worker dislocation is treated in neoclassical economic reasoning:

[A] worker who experiences a reduction in his wage because his skills are no longer
in demand bears a private cost. However, this is not a social loss if his wage is a
true reflection of how society values his skills.14

[L]iberalization of the trading regime might induce changes in the values that an
economy places on various forms of human capital. Workers who have accumulated
significant amounts of firm-specific or sector-specific human capital may suggest a
substantial (private) loss as the demand for their skills declines. In any event, this
is no more a social cost than is the change in any price that is induced by changing
market conditions.15

Matusz, Steven and David Tarr. 1999. “Adjusting to Trade Policy Reform,” World
Bank Globalization Policy Research Working Paper #2142, n. 20, 37.
Matusz and Tarr, 21, original emphasis.

In effect, the loss of a livelihood due to skill obsolescence or redundancy

in the course of market operations is counted as a private and not a
social cost. It is deemed to be part of the necessary and constant price
and quantity adjustments in the marketplace (a pecuniary externality).
Since the goal of mainstream (neoclassical) economic thinking is merely
allocative efficiency, it would not call for ameliorative extra-market
intervention on the part of the community.

Two passages from Gaudium et spes highlight the distinctive and the
more demanding nature of its position. First, recall that Leo XIII (1891)
discusses the notion of the superfluous income criterion as part of the
just-use obligation. He follows Thomas Aquinas in defining superfluous
income as that part of one’s income that is not needed to sustain one’s
social standing and that of his/her family in the community.16 The
Second Vatican Council revisits this criterion and changes its definition
by adopting John XXIII’s view:

As for the determination of what is superfluous in our day and age, cf. John XXIII,
radio-television message of Sept. 11, 1962: AAS 54 (1962) p. 682: “The obligation of
every man, the urgent obligation of the Christian man, is to reckon what is super-
fluous by the measure of the needs of others, and to see to it that the administration
and the distribution of created goods serve the common good.”17

The difference between Leo XIII’s and John XXIII’s approach to super-
fluity is the outward orientation of the latter. The point of reference is
not ourselves but the plight of our neighbors and reflects a lively sense
of responsibility for the welfare of others, especially those who are mar-
ginalized or in distress.

Second, this keen concern for our neighbors is succinctly and elo-
quently expressed in the opening lines of Gaudium et spes:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this
age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and
hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely
human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.18

See Leo XIII. 1891. Rerum novarum, no. 36 . See also Aquinas Aquinas, Thomas.
1947/8. Summa Theologica. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Prov-
ince. 3 volumes. New York: Benzinger Brothers, II-II, q. 32, a. 6, reply).
Vatican Council II 1965, II:3, n. 10.
Vatican Council II 1965, #1.

The unique strength and contribution of Gaudium et spes in dissi-

pating the indeterminacy of indirect employer relationships can be
found in the familial spirit that characterizes Christian discipleship.
We care for one another because we see in each other ourselves and a
fellow child of God.

V. Summary and Conclusions

The theological and philosophical reflections of Gaudium et spes on

the nature of the person and the human community can be used effec-
tively to resolve the problems of tracing and assigning economic respon-
sibility for market processes and outcomes, especially in a globalized
economy. In particular, this pastoral constitution offers two specific
conceptual warrants for implementing the notion of indirect employers.

First, contrary to social contract theories, the human community is

familial rather than contractual in nature. Second, a key contribution of
Gaudium et spes to social ethics is its articulation of how personal good
and the good of the community are not mutually exclusive but are
necessary conditions to each other. Far from being inherently in conflict
with each other, personal freedom and the interests of the community
are, in fact, inseparable, even as they are necessarily distinct from each
other. The common good is instantiated in personal integral human
development, while individual human flourishing can only be actual-
ized within community.

These two fundamental tenets in Gaudium et spes’ understanding of

the nature of the human person and the human community assert that
there is a strong web of natural obligations that bind people together.
Moreover, because these are natural liabilities, people cannot simply
walk away from them or absolve themselves of their attendant duties.

This means that, for purposes of attending to the harmful effects of

market operations, the economic obligations we owe each other are
primarily and principally moral rather than merely legal. Thus, pro-
viding relief to those who have been adversely affected by globalization
is not the exclusive responsibility of government but is in fact the
shared obligation of everyone who has reaped handsome gains from
expanded global trade. The greater the benefits received, the more sig-
nificant are the duties owed to those who have to bear a disproportion-
ate share of the burdens. Morever, the assistance that beneficiaries of
trade extend to those who have lost much in the process is not super-
erogatory in nature but is a demand of general, commutative, and dis-
tributive justice. A collateral implication of these duties is the role and

the genuine service that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can

play in facilitating such private interpersonal ameliorative action.

These exacting economic duties should not come as a surprise. After

all, moral imperatives are founded on higher standards compared to
legal liabilities. Thus, as indirect employers, consumers in the major
industrialized nations are accountable for the externalities (unintended
consequences inflicted on third parties) of their personal lifestyles and
consumption habits. Market widening as part of globalization only
serves to expand the scope and the gravity of such obligations. Note, for
example, the relevance of the notion of indirect employers in the case of
OECD oil consumption, environmental damage, and excessive fiscal
deficits that crowd out less developed countries from the global savings

In summary, the Second Vatican Council’s (1) exposition on the in-

separability of personal good and the good of the community and (2) its
understanding of the human community as familial add much to the
notion of the indirect employer by defining the addressees, scope, and
strength of its concomitant duties. Attending to the adverse unintended
consequences of market operations is everyone’s moral obligation and
cannot be left simply to governmental action. After all, as the opening
lines of Gaudium et spes so eloquently and unforgettably affirms, the
joys and the griefs, the hopes and the dreams of the distressed and
marginalized cannot fail to raise an echo in the hearts of the followers
of Christ. For these become are our own joys and griefs, our own hopes
and dreams. Indeed, Gaudium et spes has much to contribute in for-
mulating an appropriate economic ethics in a postindustrial ethos that
has come to be marked by an inordinate desire for private gain and
consumption to the exclusion of conscientious social responsibility for
each other.
Economic and Philosophical Reflections
on Private Wealth

Robert H. DeFina and Barbara E. Wall

Finally, man painstakingly searches for a better world, without working with equal
zeal for the betterment of his own Spirit.1

This paper considers the idea of private wealth and its importance for
Catholic social thought (CST), especially in the light of Gaudium et
spes. It begins by offering a treatment of wealth in papal documents
prior to 1965, specifically Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum, Pope Pius
XI’s Quadragesimo anno, and Pope John XXIII’s Mater et magistra,
followed by a philosophical reflection on the nature of wealth as a
means of dominance drawing on the writings of Gerda Lerner, John
Dewey, Karl Marx and Gaudium et spes, especially the document’s call
to restore the goal of human flourishing through recognition of the
importance of solidarity, equality and the pursuit of the common good.

Having established a philosophical and theological basis for question-

ing the ways in which wealth is actually used in capitalist economies,
the paper then turns to the practical ways in which CST has employed
the notion of wealth when discussing issues of economic justice. We
argue here that the tradition has generally overlooked important eco-
nomic aspects related to the generation and distribution of wealth,
focusing instead on income. The virtually exclusive reliance on income
represents a significant shortcoming in the writings on economic pro-
duction and distribution, and constitutes a logical disconnect from the
tradition’s conceptual groundings. Most importantly, it has prevented
CST from making important contributions to the creation of an eco-
nomic system consistent with Gospel values.

Robert H. DeFina is Professor of Economics in the department of Sociology at Villanova

University. Barbara Wall is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Assistant to the
President for Mission Effectiveness at Villanova University. They are executive editors
of the Journal of Catholic Social Thought.

David J. O’Brien and Thomas A. Shannon, Catholic Social Thought: The Documen-
tary Heritage, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000, p. 168.



Philosophical Reflections on Wealth Creation

It is helpful to begin this part of the paper with an examination of wealth

in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum, Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo
anno and Pope John XXIII’s Mater et magistra.

In Rerum novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s most notable achievement was

the emphasis on human dignity, especially the dignity of the worker,
which appears throughout all the succeeding encyclicals with the
gradual evolution of more comprehensive treatment of social and
economic rights and the emergence of a theory of “social justice” which
first appears in Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno. The theory of
“social justice” is rooted in the belief that human dignity is social
rather than a purely individual achievement. The human community
has a moral responsibility to establish “social justice” for all peoples. It
is in Quadragesimo anno that one finds the context for addressing
the importance of sharing wealth with all classes of society for the
common good:

. . . By these principles of social justice one class is forbidden to exclude the other
from a share in the profits. This law is violated by an irresponsible wealthy class
who, in their good fortune, deem it a just state of things that they should receive
everything and the laborer nothing.2

In Mater et magistra of Pope John XXIII, the term wealth is used in

the context of commenting on Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo
anno. In the forty years since Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum, the historical
and social changes were evident in the growth and acceptance of unre-
stricted competition. Wealth was seen as (1) a concentration of power,
and (2) concentrated in the few who “are frequently not the owners, but
only the trustees and directors of invested funds, who administer them
at their good pleasure.”3

Pope John XXIII commented on Pius XI’s discovery of the creation of

a new force in the world:

‘ . . . economic power has been substituted for the free marketplace. Unbridled am-
bition for domination has replaced desire for gain; the whole economy has become
harsh, cruel, and relentless in frightful measure.’ Thus it happened that even public
authorities were serving the interests of more wealthy men and that concentrations
of wealth, to some extent, achieved power over all peoples . . . 4

O’Brien and Shannon, p. 55.
O’Brien and Shannon, p. 89.
O’Brien and Shannon, p. 89.

Pope John XXIII provided a lens for understanding the nature of

wealth as it has evolved through changing historical conditions. The
nature of the economy has changed due to unrestricted competition
which results in a concentration of power or wealth as a kind of invis-
ible power controlling the owners and workers of an institution. The
corporate decision making is outside the relationship between owners
of a business enterprise and the workers. The very relationships be-
tween employers and employees change dramatically because of an
external will (which is empowered to make decisions affecting others)
and removed from the social nature of the work environment. According
to Catholic social teaching, the relationship between employer and em-
ployee ought to be governed by mutual respect that flows from the
inherent dignity of the person who is made in the image and likeness of
God. Relationships of mutual respect acknowledge the dignity and
equality of each individual to enter relationships for the purpose of
securing one’s needs and the fulfillment of the common good. The prin-
ciple of subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching holds that functions and
decisions should be made at the lowest levels possible in an organiza-
tion enabling the members to claim some participation and decision-
making power in the organization. If the levels within the organization
cannot make appropriate decisive interventions, then a higher level
needs to intervene. However, the problem that Pope Pius XI under-
scored is that decision making power is taken entirely outside the ap-
propriate relationships of subsidiarity, thereby denying the working
community of a quality of life that ought to be constitutive of working
relationships. Such power is always rather seductive. Catholic social
teaching has always emphasized the importance of scrutinizing the
relationships of the economy from the standpoint of human dignity and
social justice.

The description of the modern economy characterized by the power of

domination is reflected in relationships of subordination and domi-
nance that are accepted in the social context. It takes a while for these
relationships to emerge and find acceptance in society. Gerda Lerner
provides an interesting analysis of the domination of women and the
ways social relations change through the power of dominance that
might be helpful in critiquing the nature of dominance in the economy:

As Meillassoux has pointed out, once male dominance is established, women are
seen in a new way. They may, even earlier, have been seen as being closer to ‘nature’
than to ‘culture’ and thus inferior, although not devoid of power. Once exchanged,
women are no longer seen as equal human beings; rather, they become instruments
for the designs of men, likened to a commodity. Women become reified because they

are conquered and protected, while men become reifiers because they conquer and
protect. The stigma of belonging to a group which can be dominated reinforces the
initial destruction. Before long, women come to be perceived as an inferior
group . . . 5

Relationships of dominance are predicated on a model of relationship

characterized as superior/inferior that is reflected in a fragmented, ex-
clusive and polarized social relationship. Perhaps there are elements of
feminist critique that can provide a prophetic insight regarding the
nature of wealth as dominance. The biblical sense of human nature
portrays the individual as a being created by God, created in the image
and likeness of God and is destined to reunion with God. The end of
each person’s life is determined by the choices the person makes in
her/his life. We have come from God, we are created in God’s image and
likeness, and we will, at some point, return to God. This is a journey of
the spirit.

The Christian tradition as evidenced in the Gospels consistently re-

jects material domination with regard to humans. As a parenthetic
aside, it is only recently that the thinking of Catholic social teaching
has evolved to include a rejection of the notion of “domination of na-
ture.”6 The tradition rejects the theory that humans, regardless of race,
ethnic origin or sex, be viewed and treated as objects of control by
another human being. The human person is to be respected as having
an inherent quality of dignity and sacredness. The Catholic Church’s
response to slavery is another matter, and Catholic social teaching
evolved and only recently rejected all forms of slavery and racism.7
Gaudium et spes was written during the decade of the civil rights move-
ment in the United States and elsewhere. Gaudium et spes emphasized
that the Biblical story of humankind is one of liberation which flows
from the assumption that all human beings are capable by nature of a
freedom that is of God.

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 99.
On January 1, 1990, Pope John Paul II delivered “The Ecological Crisis: A Common
Responsibility” for the celebration of the World Day of Peace in which he addresses the
plundering of nature and lack of respect for creation. On prior documents, such as
Rerum novarum (paragraphs 11, 12, 57), Quadregisimo anno (paragraph 53) and
Gaudium et spes (paragraph 12), the relationship between human nad nature is referred
to as a relationship of dominion.
With regard to the Catholic Church’s position on slavery, especially in the United
States, see John T. McGreevy’s Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (NY:
W.W. Norton, 2003) especially chapter 2. Marvin L. Krier Mich in Catholic Social
Teaching and Movements, Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1998, points out in
ch. 5 that the White Church of Europe and North America was not aware of its own

Returning to our consideration of wealth as dominance, not only do

new forms of wealth control the economic enterprise, they also control
other peoples. Pope John XXIII stated in Mater et magistra, “even
public authorities were serving the interests of more wealthy men and
that concentration of wealth, to some extent, achieved power over all
peoples.”8 There is an interesting quality to this new emerging
wealth—the power of invisible control over economic relationships and
people. There is no social or economic structure of mutual accountabil-
ity for the employers and employees because both are controlled by an
invisible external force.

The impact of a world governed by the determinations of wealth in

modern economy can be seen in the ways it affects relationships within
the community by reducing labor relations to a materialistic base. The
new form of wealth described by Pope Pius XI and Pope John XXIII
flows from a historically conditioned view of human nature that is ma-
terialistic. A materialistic view of human nature uses categories we
ordinarily apply to nature at large and applies them to human nature
itself. When people are used as instruments for securing profit, they are
used as means for the accumulated wealth of a few who are removed
from the very productive relationships that create the profit. This is a
form of human bondage in the economic sphere. Such a view of human-
kind as employers and employees conceives of profit as primary and the
development or flourishing of humankind as secondary. In such a so-
ciety, technological development is pushed in the name of freedom, and
societies, such as indigenous peoples, are diminished, if not wiped out.

Within the Christian tradition, we have long honored the potential

sacramental quality of human encounter. There is no place for the use
of domination or control of other people or between people. According to
Charles Curran, Gaudium et spes provides clearly in part one the com-
munitarian and social nature of human beings. “The social aspect of
human existence is not something added on to the person but an es-
sential part of the human reality.” 9 It is in part one that this document
underscored the importance of the Church’s social mission, a mission
that involves each person in the important work of transforming a
culture that celebrates individualism.

O’Brien and Shannon, p. 89.
Charles E. Curran, Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theologi-
cal and Ethical Analysis, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2002, pp.

In American culture such transformation is even more difficult be-

cause our society privileges profit, rabid individualism, and technologi-
cal control of the world’s resources and indirectly control of world popu-
lations such as third world countries that supply the raw materials for
our successful lifestyles. American philosopher John Dewey in Human
Nature and Conduct describes and identifies capitalism’s notion of the
nature of the human person and Dewey provides a critique of same. The
system of capitalism is described as one that involves the exploitation of
some human beings for the advantage of others. Capitalism places us in
a proprietary stance towards nature and other human beings, even
toward oneself. The capitalism Dewey criticized, as well as, the long
standing history of the Papal encyclicals, is Liberal Capitalism which
emphasized radical individualism:

No unprejudiced observer will lightly deny the existence of an original tendency to

assimilate objects and events to the self, to make them part of the ‘me.’ We may even
admit that the ‘me’ cannot exist without the ‘mine.’ The self gets solidity and form
through an appropriation of things which identifies them with whatever we call
myself . . . Possession shapes and consolidates the ‘I’ of philosophers. ‘I own, there-
fore I am’ expresses a truer psychology than the Cartesian ‘I think, therefore I am.’ 10

What is the nature of the person that capitalism subtends? According

to Dewey, capitalism identifies human nature as an individual moved
only by an incentive of personal profit:

Those who attempt to defend the necessity of economic institutions as manifestations

of human nature convert this suggestion of a concrete inquiry into a generalized
truth and hence into a definitive falsity. They take the saying to mean that nobody
would do anything, or at least anything of use to others, without a prospect of some
tangible reward. And beneath this false proposition there is another assumption still
more monstrous, namely, that man exists naturally in a state of rest so that he
requires some external force to set him into action.11

According to Dewey, our ability to control even nature in the 20th

century is thwarted by individualism, i.e. progress for the few—“But
such progress will not be initiated until we cease opposing the socially
corporate to the individual, and until we develop a constructively imagi-
native observation of the role of science and technology in actual soci-
ety. The greatest obstacle to that vision is, I repeat, the perpetuation of
the older individualism now reduced, as I have said, to the utilization of
science and technology for ends of private pecuniary gain.”12

John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, NY: Random House, 1950, pp. 116-117.
John Dewey, p. 118.
John Dewey, p. 118.

What does all this have to do with wealth and human flourishing? The
Judaic-Christian notion of the human person is operative for all per-
sons; despite historical theories of economic growth that justify the
greed and accumulation of a few over against the masses of humanity,
and even go so far as to enshroud acquisitiveness and greed with the
mantle of virtue. It is justice then that is understood and characterized
as the proper relationship between people and not domination.

The nature of this kind of wealth is also characterized as exclusive by

Karl Marx whose definition of the nature of private property might
provide more insight into the nature of wealth as described by Pope
John XXIII. In “On the Jewish Question,” Marx writes:

The right of property is, therefore, the right to enjoy one’s fortune and to dispose of
it as one will; without regard for other men and independently of society. It is the
right of self-interest. This individual liberty and its application form the basis of
civil society. It leads every man to see in other men, not the realization, but rather the
limitation of his own liberty. It declares, above all, the right ‘to enjoy and to dispose,
as one will, one’s goods and revenues, the fruits of one’s work and industry.’13

Relationships of privatized wealth are disconnected from the common

good and the social nature of the human person. These are the results
of economic undertakings that are not governed by “justice and charity
as the principle laws of social life.”14

In Gaudium et spes, we find a few references to wealth which are

rather descriptive of the world as we know it. “Never has the human
race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources, and economic
power. Yet a huge proportion of the world’s citizens is still tormented by
hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illit-
eracy. Never before today has man been so keenly aware of freedom, yet
at the same time, new forms of social and psychological slavery make
their appearance.”15

In Mater et magistra, the treatment of wealth is more philosophical

and humanistic in its analysis of economic activity and human needs.
Gaudium et spes is more reliant on a biblical context, especially the
references to the person as a partner with God in the creation of a more
just and peaceful world. The document reinforces the Church’s commit-

Robert C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader, New York: W.W. Norton, Inc., 1978, p.
O’Brien and Shannon, p. 89.
O’Brien and Shannon, p. 168.

ment to the common good as an appropriate end of human activity.

There is an understanding that economic relationships will continue to
change, however, there is a constant that ought to prevail in human
relationships. The fundamental reality of the human condition is that
we are social beings by nature and will only find human self-
actualization through working for the common good of all.

“Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the
divine plan and will, it should harmonize with the genuine good of the
human race, and allow men as individuals and as members of society to
pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.”16

Gaudium et spes addresses the relationship that ought to obtain

between individuals and institutions:

. . . Human institutions, both private and public, must labor to minister to the
dignity and purpose of man. At the same time, let them put up a stubborn fight
against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic
rights of man under every political system. Indeed human institutions themselves
must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones, even
though meanwhile, a long enough time will be required before they arrive at the
desired goal.

. . . Let everyone consider it his sacred obligation to count social necessities among
the primary duties of modern man, and to pay heed to them. For the more unified
the world becomes, the more plainly do the offices of men extend beyond particular
groups and spread by degrees to the whole world. But this challenge cannot be met
unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and
social virtues, and promote them in society. Thus, with the needed help of divine
grace, men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming.17

In terms of the effects of the changes in the nature of wealth on the

common good, we can see how the combined influence of establishing
social, cultural and economic legitimacy for theories of dominance, ex-
clusivity, individualism are detrimental to the human community and
the common good.

Gaudium et spes identifies the purpose of all human life as destined

for human solidarity. The seductiveness of dominance, exclusivity and
individualism subvert our true potential as humans. It is only through
an ethic of community that “the obligations of justice and love are
fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according

O’Brien and Shannon, p. 186.
O’Brien and Shannon, p. 183.

to his own abilities and the needs of others also promotes and assists
the public and private in situations dedicated to bettering the condi-
tions of human life.”18

Economic Reflections on Wealth Creation

CST, from its earliest foundations, has attended to questions of jus-

tice in the material distribution of goods and services. In doing so, it has
sought to articulate a vision of personal and communal access that
constitutes right standing before God and community. Paul VI ad-
dressed the issue at several points in Gaudium et spes, among them:

God destined the earth and all it contains for all people and nations so that all
created things would be shared fairly by all humankind under the guidance of
justice tempered by charity . . . we must never lose sight of this universal destination
of earthly goods. (69)

To meet the requirements of justice and equity, every effort must be made, while
respecting the rights of individuals and national characteristics, to put an end as
soon as possible to the immense economic inequality which exists in the world,
which increases daily and which go hand and hand with individual and social
discrimination. (66)

More recently, John Paul II has proffered a similar vision in claiming

that all private property is burdened by a “social mortgage” and subject
to the service of the common good.

The statements in Gaudium et spes make no distinction between

intra-nation and inter-nation inequality, nor do they specify precisely
how one is to gauge inequality. However, in examining the demands of
justice, encyclicals and pastorals including Gaudium et spes, have al-
most universally concentrated on aspects of income generation and dis-
tribution, with wages and working conditions serving as the main in-
dicators of economic well being. Thus, beginning with Rerum novarum
and continuing through Centessimus annus, encyclicals and pastoral
letters have been oriented to issues such as living wages, the need for
social insurance, the desirability of unions, and so forth. In this
spirit, Economic Justice for All specifically denounced what appeared to
the U.S. Bishops at the time as an unacceptably high level of income

The generation of income and its distribution are clearly important

issues and certainly merit attention. However, a focus on wages and

O’Brien and Shannon, p. 183.

work has needlessly constrained the ability of CST to foster the full and
authentic development of individuals and communities. In particular,
as many researchers, especially in sociology, have emphasized, life
chances and social stratification/mobility are more a function of wealth
than income. The ability to take risks, afford education, start a busi-
ness, and obtain decent and stable housing all depend on wealth and
not just current income.

Although income and wealth are related, they are not identical.
Wealth, as will be discussed, is a more general concept and similar
incomes can lead to very different wealth levels. Moreover, the level of
income currently received by members of certain groups in society (e.g.,
women and racial/ethnic minorities) can be much less indicative of the
members’ long-term financial situation than is the level of income for
members of other groups.

A contention of this paper is that CST can be usefully applied to

scrutinize both the levels and types of wealth inequality, and the com-
plex social processes from which they arise. By expanding its analysis
to cover wealth, CST gains opportunities to speak prophetically and in
new ways about a variety of issues of great practical importance, and to
create a new and more powerful lens through which to view the de-
mands of justice in the light of faith.

Wealth Creation and Distribution

Wealth Versus Income

It is useful to begin by distinguishing income from wealth. Income

constitutes a flow. That is, it represents an amount paid or received per
unit of time. An individual, for example, receives a certain salary per
month or interest payments per year. For each period the person works
or invests, the income will continue to flow. Of course behind the income
flow is a corresponding flow of new production for which the income is
payment. That new production flow can be either consumed or saved.
To the extent it is saved, it contributes to wealth.

Indeed, wealth is simply the accumulated flow of all past savings, that
is, the sum total of past production that has not been consumed.19 As

Although the paper concerns private wealth, wealth has both a private and a
public dimension. That is, individuals can accumulate savings privately or, by paying
part of their income as taxes, accumulate savings in the public sector for communal use.

such it is a stock or an amount at a point in time. One talks about the

amount of wealth available, say, today as opposed to the amount of
income continually flowing in per month. And that part of any new
production that is saved can be stored as wealth in a variety of forms,
both as financial assets, such as a savings account, and as real assets,
such as housing.

Income and wealth thus are related but distinct. At first glance, it
may appear that the distinction is purely academic. Since wealth is
directly related to income, it would seem that understanding wealth
and wealth disparities is simply the flip side of understanding income
generation and its disparities. In fact, standard economic analyses tend
to follow this line of reasoning. However, a more realistic description of
the relationship between income and wealth explicitly recognizes that
the conversion of income into wealth involves various social processes
affected by social context, norms, and power differentials between coun-
terpart groups. As such, the relationship between income and wealth is
a dialectical one that will vary both across time and across various
groups in society. Moreover, the amount of wealth held by an individual
need not only reflect the saving of that individual. Rather, any particu-
lar person also can establish and add to wealth from the savings gen-
erated by others via gifts and bequests. While such transfers do not add
to aggregate wealth, they do help explain individual differences in
wealth holdings.

Figure 1 illustrates schematically the relationship between an indi-

vidual’s income and wealth. The diagram necessarily simplifies, but is
presented to emphasize two key points. One is that wealth creation and
distribution is a broad process that includes income generation and
distribution as components. Thus, a focus on wealth does not exclude
CST’s traditional scrutiny of income, but rather simply widens the lens
to cover other phenomena. The other is the complexity and social dis-
tance in the link between income and wealth. Clearly, both individual
behaviors and social processes and structures intervene. For example,
the conversion of savings into wealth entails the mediation of financial

In terms of the foregoing framework, the taxes paid to all levels of government consti-
tute public sector income. Like individuals, the government can consume part of the
taxes, for example by providing food to hungry children, and can save part through
investments in public infrastructure, like roads, bridges and schools. The division of
taxes among their potential uses, and hence the creation of public wealth, is a social
(political) process. CST can usefully be applied to questions of the sufficiency and types
of public wealth, although we do not do so here.

Figure 1. The Conversion of Individual Income into Private Wealth

institutions and markets, housing markets and government policy.

Similarly, the amount and form of bequests reflect social expectations
and policies. We will elaborate on the nature of the different relevant
social processes shortly. At this point we simply point out that CST ’s
emphasis on income ignores a host of issues relevant to the common
good. By looking beyond income (but not ignoring it) and scrutinizing
each part of the wealth creation and distribution process, CST can
contribute significantly by offering guidance both on behaviors and

The Ways in which Wealth Matters for the Common Good

Because wealth is accumulated savings, it constitutes a reserve that

can be drawn upon for infrequent, large and necessary outlays and in
times of crisis and need. Individuals’ abilities to successfully negotiate
both occurrences often prove foundational for their full and authentic
development. Examples abound. Access to considerable funds for col-
lege and beyond is now a basic necessity for a decent job. Similarly,
families must provide lump sum down payments for housing. A range of
studies covering different areas have shown that obtaining decent
housing in good neighborhoods with close proximity to jobs provides an
array of benefits to adults and children. These include higher pay,
better performance in grades K through 12, higher graduation rates,
less illness, lower rates of teen pregnancy, less drug and alcohol use,
and lower crime and incarceration rates.20 Accumulated wealth allows

See, for example, Richard Rothstein, Class and Schools, Columbia University and
Economic Policy Institute, 2004.

one to provide collateral for loans to start a business or to acquire

needed business capital such as tools and computers.21

Wealth is also critical because it provides insurance that supports

risk taking and cushions the impact of adverse circumstances. Gener-
ally, actions that carry the potential for personal and community im-
provement entail uncertainty. The move to a new job or career, for
instance, or the decision that a spouse remains at home to raise chil-
dren requires the possible or probable loss of income. Accumulated
wealth can promote these positive activities by lessening the concern
about the ability to meet financial obligations. Since these kinds of risks
can also carry higher rewards for the individual and community, lack of
wealth for some means that they are systematically disadvantaged.
Similarly, problems that otherwise might appear transitory, such as
sickness, injury, job loss or divorce can have longer range consequences
unless individuals have adequate wealth to handle associated income
losses. Job losses that last six months or more, not an uncommon oc-
currence during the past three years in the U.S., can exhaust govern-
ment unemployment insurance and leave individuals vulnerable to the
loss of their house, car and other necessary belongings.22 Research by
Jonathan Gruber, for example, has found that 80 percent of workers
who become unemployed have savings that equal at most two months

Wealth also plays a special role in the common good relative to income
in that it can promote greater social solidarity and firmer support for
citizenship. King and Waldron (1988) point out that almost all great
theorists of citizenship in the tradition of Western political thought,
from Aristotle to Arendt, believed that full participation in public life
involves the attainment of a certain social status, which is more typi-
cally thought to be a function of wealth than of income.24 This is true
because of the need for a minimum level of education and access to

See, K. Edin, “More than Money: The Role of Assets in the Survival Strategies and
Material Well-Being of the Poor,” in Thomas Shapiro and Edward N. Wolff, eds., Assets
for the Poor, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation), 2001.
Estimates reveal for example that over 3 million unemployed workers currently
have exhausted their federal unemployment insurance. See, I. Shapiro, “Number of
Unemployed Workers Who Have Gone Without Federal Benefits Hits Record 3 Million,”
Center For Budget and Policy Priorities (October 13, 2004).
J. Gruber, “The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance,”
The American Economic Review, 87, March 1997.
King, D. and J. Waldron (1988): “Citizenship, Social Citizenship and the Defence
of Welfare Provision,” British Journal of Political Science, 18, pp. 415-443. The discus-
sion in the paragraph draws from their article.

decision makers, and of the need to remain insulated from economic

and political intimidation. Other political theorists stressed the dan-
gers inherent in a widely unequal distribution of wealth. Rousseau, for
example, argued that such inequality corrodes social solidarity and a
sense of common purpose.25 Thus, for example, those who own property
and those who do not can hold very different opinions about basic com-
munity issues such as the need for taxes and their appropriate uses,
and might even resent one another. Galbraith’s 2004 article in this
journal makes similar arguments in the current economic context, not-
ing the adverse consequences of wealth shortfalls and maldistribution
for economic growth.

Finally, wealth provides a window into the history of a person’s or

group’s struggles that is masked by income levels. Two individuals
might currently have equal incomes, but one may have only recently
attained it while the other has had a higher level for a long period of
time. The same is true for counterpart groups, such as men and women,
and whites and non-whites. Additionally, individuals with similar cur-
rent incomes can experience different frequencies and durations of un-
employment. This appears to be the case for whites versus non-
whites.26 Since wealth captures the entire history of income and sav-
ings flows, it will reveal these differences whereas income levels per se
will not.

The Current Distribution of Private Wealth

Given the special significance of wealth for the common good, it be-
comes important to delve more deeply into the distribution of wealth
and the underlying reasons for disparities. To do so, we present some
data on private wealth holdings in the United States.

The data come from a study by Professor Edward Wolff of New York
University.27 His study makes two things very clear that are relevant
for our discussion. First, trends in income and wealth can diverge no-
ticeably, underscoring the need for particular attention on wealth. Sec-
ond, the extent of wealth inequality in the United States is astonishing
and much greater than income inequality.

J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy, trans. And ed. G.D.H. Cole (Lon-
don:1966), p. 134, cited in King and Waldron, ibid, p. 426.
See Rothstein, op cit.
E. Wolff (2004), “Changes in Household Wealth in the 1980s and 1990s in the
U.S.,” The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Working Paper No. 407.

Concerning trends, different summary measures of family wealth

have grown considerably faster during the past twenty years than have
comparable summary measures of family income. Mean and median
family incomes, adjusted for inflation, have grown 13.7% and 28.9%
respectively between 1983 and 2001. The corresponding growth rates
for inflation adjusted net worth are 23.1 % and 64.6%. If one narrows
the focus to financial net worth (essentially abstracting from housing
wealth), the figures are 81.1% and 78.1%. So while both income and
wealth rose during the period, the widely different growth rates suggest
that unique circumstances are generating the growth and that under-
standings of changes in material well-being are contingent upon which
measure one adopts (i.e., income or wealth).

There are a variety of ways to explore income and wealth inequality.

One is to examine a summary measure of inequality such as the well-
known Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient takes values between 0 and
1, with values closer to 1 indicating greater inequality. According to
Wolff́ ’s (2004) calculations (his Table 1), the Gini coefficient in 2001 was
0.826 for total net worth, 0.888 for financial net worth and 0.562 for
income. That is, the Gini index indicates that wealth is considerably
more concentrated than income.

A more intuitive way to depict inequality is to calculate the percent of

total income or wealth held by different percentiles of the distribution.
By Wolff́ ’s (2004) estimates (his Table 2), the top 10% of income earning
households received 45.2% of all income. By contrast, the top 10% of
wealth owners held 71.5% of all wealth. For the top 10% of all financial
wealth holders, the fraction of financial wealth owned is 79.9%. Again,
wealth is considerably more concentrated than income. If one looks at
the wealth owned by the top 1% of wealth holders, the figures are 33.4%
for total net worth and 39.7% for financial net worth, while the fraction
for income is 20%. By contrast, the lowest 40% of wealth holders owns
only 0.3% of all wealth and –0.7% of financial wealth (i.e., they are net
debtors). These data are nothing short of breathtaking. Indeed, the
current concentration of wealth has led the eminent economist Paul
Krugman to liken the current situation to the period of the robber

Another disturbing perspective concerns racial differences in wealth

holding. Here again, the data are skewed so much as to make one ask
whether there was a mistake in the calculations. Wolff (2004) calculates
the ratios of Non-Hispanic African American wealth to that of Non-
Hispanic White wealth. The median ratio for total net worth is 0.1; the
median ratio for financial wealth is 0.03. That is, a typical African-

American family has 3 cents in financial wealth for every dollar help by
the typical White family. By contrast, the corresponding median ratio
for incomes is 0.57 or 57 cents for every dollar. The relevant median
ratios for Hispanic wealth to Non-Hispanic White wealth are even
smaller (0.03 and 0.01).

As always, it is useful to state explicitly that neither Gaudium et spes

nor any other encyclical or pastoral letter has ever called for perfect
equality in the material distribution of goods and services. Rather, the
documents suggest various foundational principles that should guide
our thinking about justice, and that should be applied to three dimen-
sions of economic activities.28 These include justice in exchange (com-
mutative justice), justice in ownership (distributive justice), and justice
in participation (contributive justice). As such, all aspects of economic
life, including production and consumption activities, are subject to
scrutiny in the light of faith.

In light of these criteria, some economic and social differences rea-

sonably can be considered useful and just. However, the extreme in-
equality that currently exists in the United States calls into question
both the usefulness and the fairness of the wealth distribution. Only a
market fundamentalist would claim that existing overall and racial
wealth inequality simply reflects historical differences in individual
and group productive contributions to society. That point notwithstand-
ing, it is useful to recall Paul VI’s words in Gaudium et spes:

Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one
human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity,
human dignity and international peace. (29)

The challenge for CST is to understand the underlying causes and to

prophetically speak about disparities that undermine the common good
and other basic guiding principles.

Reasons for Large Wealth Disparities

As mentioned earlier, a basic reason for wealth differences is different

levels of income. The lower the level of income an individual has, the

The principles include human dignity, the primacy of the person, the social nature
of the person, solidarity of the human family, the common good as inseparable from the
good of persons, subsidiarity, participation as a basic right, the universal destination
of material goods, and the preferential option for the poor. These are discussed in
W. Byron, “Ten Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching,” America, 179, 1998.

less the person can save other things equal. Thus, CST’s longstanding
focus on incomes does contribute to the analysis of wealth. Still, statis-
tical analyses have shown that income differences can explain only part
of the wealth differences that are observed in the population. Wolff ’s
(2004) analysis shows, for example, that “Though wealth and income
are positively correlated among households, the correlation is far from
perfect and there exists a large variation of wealth holdings within
income classes” (p.2).

One way to see this is to examine wealth ratios for Whites and Afri-
can-Americans by income class. This allows us to abstract to some
extent from the role of different incomes in generating different wealth
levels. If income differences were the whole story, then Whites and
African-Americans with the same income level should have the same
wealth (and a ratio of 1). The data, however, indicate otherwise. Ac-
cording the Wolff ’s (2004) computations, the ratios are between 0.2 and
0.4, depending on the income level used. Clearly, other and more com-
plex factors apparently are at play.

Take, for instance, saving behavior. More wealth will be available to

a person the greater fraction of income that is saved. In part, the frac-
tion saved will reflect individual preferences, but in part it can also
reflect social processes like government policies meant to encourage
saving. A good example is the tax exempt status of contributions to
employer 401(k) retirement funds, and the associated matching contri-
butions of employers. The policy is clearly aimed at increasing retire-
ment saving and allows workers to accumulate much more wealth than
otherwise from a given amount of individual saving. Thus, $1 saved by
an individual worker represents $2 saved after the matching employer
contribution; on top of that, the $1 saved avoids federal income taxes in
the year of contribution and all future interest earned is tax deferred
until retirement. An issue arises, however, because not all jobs provide
such a program. Consequently, $1 saved by one individual will produce
far less wealth than $1 saved by another person. And because the
availability of 401(k) programs is likely to vary systematically by race
and gender, since women and racial minorities tend to have less desir-
able jobs, these groups will systematically be disadvantaged.29 CST has
an opportunity to comment on the justice issues raised by the differen-

A response to this observation is that women and racial minorities simply have not
invested enough in their own “human capital” and so are individually responsible for
their situation. While recognizing the basic idea that individual decisions at least partly
explain individual outcomes, we take seriously the notion that certain groups in society
face daunting systemic constraints, social expectations and a lack of power that calls

tial treatment of workers (and non workers). Other opportunities for

scrutiny related to retirement savings concern the proposed privatiza-
tion of social security and the increasing willingness of courts to allow
firms to abrogate their pension responsibilities to workers so that the
firms can remain profitable.30
Another key social process that affects wealth creation is the housing
market. Housing remains one of the most widespread forms of wealth
holding in the United States.31 Yet, the process is biased in various
ways toward particular individuals and groups and contributes to ob-
served disparities. The deductibility of mortgage interest paid consti-
tutes one source of bias. Because the tax code uses progressive tax
rates, individuals with higher incomes obtain a greater tax benefit per
dollar of mortgage interest paid. That is to say, $1 devoted to housing
by a high income person results in more wealth accumulation than $1
devoted by a low income person. And if a person receives income too low
to be taxed, he or she gets no tax benefit at all. As a result, about 53%
of the value of the deduction in 2000 went to families with income
greater than $100,000. Only 1.3% of the deductions went to families
with incomes of $30,000 or less.32
The accumulation of housing wealth is also biased toward certain
groups because of racial discrimination in the housing market, whereby
racial minorities are restricted from entering certain neighborhoods.33
The discrimination not only directly reduces the ability to accumulate
housing wealth, but also has a variety of significant indirect effects on life
chances, such as a lack of access to jobs and diminished physical health.

into question the meaning of “voluntary” actions. Decisions about education, hours
worked, and occupations among other things are not made in a social vacuum.
Recent court decisions concerning US Airways machinists are an example. See NY
Times, January 6, 2005.
According to Wolff (2004), Table 5, the overall home ownership rate in the U.S. in
2001 was 67.7%, higher than the ownership rate of any other form of wealth. If the
category “other real estate” is included, the fraction is 84.5%.
Jacob Hacker, The Divided Welfare State, (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press), 2002, p. 38.
Discrimination in home purchasing has been widely documented both in academic
and government studies. The classic study is D. Massey and N. Denton, American
Apartheid, (1994: Harvard University Press). Se also J. Yinger, “Housing Discrimina-
tion and Residential Segregation as Causes of Poverty,” in University of Wisconsin-
Madison Institute for Research on Poverty Focus, 21, (fall 2000). There is also strong
evidence of racial discrimination in the home loan process, although recent regulatory
and technological changes appear to have mitigated it. See A. Munnell et al., “Mortgage
Lending in Boston: Interpreting HMDA Data,” American Economic Review, 86, (March
1996), pp. 25-53 and A. Yezer, “Discrimination in Mortgage Lending,” in Daniel Mc-
Millen, ed., Companion to Urban Economics, (New York Blackwell), 2005.

Bequests, as noted earlier, are another factor lying between individu-

als’ incomes and their ability to accumulate wealth. Indeed, studies
have shown that bequests are an important source of U.S. wealth dif-
ferentials.34 How the proceeds from estates are to be divided and how
public policy should intervene are questions to which CST can speak.
One opportunity was the recent policy decision to eliminate the U.S.
estate tax. Estimates revealed that the tax change produced no overall
benefits to the U.S. economy, but rather only served to enrich families
that were already extraordinarily rich.35 Moreover, the policy change
had the indirect impact of harming the poorest individuals in that it
eliminated an important incentive to make charitable contributions
from estates. The Congressional Budget office and others have esti-
mated that the change reduced charitable giving by at least $12 billion
per year, an amount equal to the total amount of corporate charitable
donations.36 Unfortunately, the Church was silent during the debate
and in its aftermath, apparently failing to heed Paul VI’s penetrating
words in Gaudium et spes:

At the very time when economic progress, provided it is directed and organized in a
reasonable and human way, could do so much to reduce social inequality, it seems
all to often only to aggravate them; in some places it even leads to a decline in the
situation of the underprivileged and to contempt for the poor. (63)

There are many other examples in which social processes and struc-
tures favor the wealth accumulation of some individuals and groups
over others. Unfortunately, and contrary to Paul VI’s admonishment,
the already well-to-do are often the favored group. These have contrib-
uted to a degree of wealth inequality that, as described earlier, is re-
markable. To the extent that these differences are unjust and to the
extent that they reflect factors beyond income differences, CST can
profitably redirect attention to wealth creation and distribution per se.

M.O. Wilhelm, “The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Spreading Asset Own-
ership,” in Thomas Shapiro and Edward N. Wolff, eds., Assets for the Poor, (New York:
Russell Sage Foundation), 2001.
See Iris J. Lav and James Sly, “Estate Tax Repeal: A Windfall for the Wealthiest
Americans,” Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, June 21, 2000. Out 2.3 million
people who died in 1997, fewer than 43,000 had to pay estate tax. Joint Committee on
Taxation, Present Law and Background on Federal Tax Provisions Relating to Retire-
ment Savings Incentives, Health and Long-term Care, and Estate and Gift Taxes, (JCX-
22-99), June 1999.
Congressional Budget Office, “ The Estate Tax and Charitable Giving,” (July 2004).
See also, David Kamin, “New CBO Study Finds That Estate Tax Repeal Would Sub-
stantially Reduce Charitable Giving,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 31,
Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach to
Development and Gaudium et Spes

Séverine Deneulin

The Capability Approach

“Development can be seen, it is argued here, as a process of expanding

the real freedoms that people enjoy.”1 So opens Development as Free-
dom. The book by economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen
summarizes his thirty-year long works in seeking an alternative basis
for economic theory. Sen’s pioneering works in welfare economics have
emphasised that quality of life does not lie in the amount of commodi-
ties that people possess, or the utility levels that they reach, but lies
their “capabilities” or freedoms, that is, in their “abilities to do valuable
acts or reach valuable states of being.”2 There are components of hu-
man well-being that income cannot capture, such as a greater access to
knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure liveli-
hoods, security against crime and physical violence, political and cul-
tural freedoms, and participation in community activities. This is why
the end of development cannot be reduced to a single measure, such as
income, but needs to be multidimensional and concerned with the na-
ture of the lives that people are living. As the Human Development
Reports of the United Nations Development Programme state it, the
end of development is to enhance people’s freedoms in all areas of their
life (economic, social and cultural).3 Within the human development
paradigm, development is a process of “expansion of the real freedoms

Séverine Deneulin is a lecturer in the department of Economics and International

Development, University of Bath (UK).

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 3.
Sen, Amartya. “Capability and Well-Being.” Quality of Life. Eds. Amartya Sen, and
Martha Nussbaum. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 30.
United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Reports. New-
York: Oxford University Press, 1990-2005 (published annually). For how the Reports
are indebted to Sen’s capability approach, see especially Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, and A.K.
Shiva Kumar, eds. Readings in Human Development. Delhi: Oxford University Press,



that the citizens enjoy to pursue the objectives they have reason to
value.”4 Or alternatively, development can be seen as “the removal of
various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and
little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.”5
The most fundamental freedom in Sen’s approach to development is
that of agency, that is, “the ability of people to help themselves and to
influence the world.”6 Throughout his works, Sen has emphasised that
people should not be seen as passive spoon-fed patients of social welfare
institutions, but “have to be seen as being actively involved in shaping
their own destiny.”7 Each person has to be seen as a “doer and a judge”
instead of a “beneficiary,”8 as subject and actor of her own life rather
than an object of actions that are being made for her.
By “agent”, Sen understands “someone who acts and brings about
change, and whose achievements can be judged in terms of her own
values and objectives.”9 Sen distinguishes agency achievement, which
is “the realisation of goals and values a person has reasons to pursue,
whether or not they are connected with her own well-being,”10 and
agency freedom, which is “one’s freedom to bring about the achieve-
ments one values and which one attempts to produce.”11 Although Sen
understands agency as the ability to bring about the goals that a person
values, whether these goals are connected to human well-being or not,
as an approach to development, the exercise of individual agency has
closely been associated to goals related to the enhancement of human
well-being. For example, speaking of the deep afflictions that affect
mankind in terms of hunger, malnutrition, preventable diseases, pov-
erty, oppression, Sen underlines that, “we have to recognise the role of
individual freedoms of different kinds in countering these afflictions.
Indeed, individual agency is, ultimately, central for addressing these
Exercising individual agency may take an infinite variety of forms
and ranges of actions. The question of what kind of agency is central to

Drèze, Jean, and Amartya Sen. India: Economic Development and Social Opportu-
nity. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 10.
Sen. Development as Freedom, p. xii.
Ibid., p. 18.
Ibid., p. 53.
Sen, Amartya. “Well-Being Agency and Freedom: The Dewey Lectures 1984.” Jour-
nal of Philosophy. 82.4 (1985), p. 208.
Sen. Development as Freedom, p. 19.
Sen, Amartya. Inequality Re-examined. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, p. 56.
Ibid., p. 57.
Sen. Development as Freedom, p. xi. Italics added.

addressing human deprivations is left open. Sen’s writings devote a lot

of attention to the ability to participate in the life of community, as a
form of exercise of agency to do something for oneself and for other
members of the community.13 Participation in the life of the community
is one form of expressing individual agency, but other forms may be
valuable too, like for example migration to another country in the
search for a greater well-being.

In addition to the above freedoms, Sen’s capability approach identifies

two crucial attitudes for development: sympathy, where concern for
others directly affects one’s own welfare, and commitment, where con-
cern for others is independent of one’s own welfare, where one’s choice
is not motivated by its effects on one’s own welfare.14 For example, one
can help a destitute person because one feels unhappy and uncomfort-
able at the sight of this destitution. Helping the poor as a way of alle-
viating one’s unhappiness and making oneself more comfortable, would
then be a sympathy-based action. But one can also help a destitute
person because one thinks that it is not fair for someone else to suffer
from destitution while one is not. In that case one’s action would be
based on commitment.15

The role that these other-regarding concerns play for making partici-
pation work for the greatest well-being of all has been especially un-
derlined in Drèze and Sen’s analysis of participation in India. For ex-
ample, they write that, a way for democratic decision-making not to
be a game where the voices of the powerful trumps the voice of the
underprivileged, is to create a sense of solidarity between the most
privileged and the underprivileged (e.g. intellectuals and higher social
classes speaking on behalf of the underprivileged and defending their

Poverty and Development in Gaudium et Spes

The capability approach emerged in a secular environment in the

early 1980s. Yet, its ideas bear many striking similarities with those set

Drèze, Jean, and Amartya Sen. India: Development and Participation. Delhi: Ox-
ford University Press, 2002.
Sen, Amartya. “Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioural Foundations of Eco-
nomic Theory.” Choice, Welfare and Measurement. Amartya Sen. Oxford: Basil Black-
well, 1982. 84-106.
Sen. Development as Freedom, p. 270.
Drèze and Sen. India: Development and Participation, p. 29.

up in Gaudium et spes forty years before the capability approach and

the Human Development Reports became popular.

First, there is the primacy of freedom and personal dignity over all
economic and social ends. Paragraph 25 affirms for example that, “the
subject and the goal of all institutions is and must be the human per-
son.” Paragraph 63 reaffirms the idea that “man is the source, centre,
and purpose of all economic and social life.” Paragraph 17 directly links
the end of economic and social activities with human freedom: “Only in
freedom can man direct himself towards goodness.”17 These words echo
the capability approach’s emphasis that human well-being is to be as-
sessed in terms of the freedom of the human person, and not in terms
of the possession of commodities. In Gaudium et spes, as in the capa-
bility approach, it is the human person who is the end of all social
institutions. A liberalisation of markets would do no good if the end
result is that farmers in developing countries get a lower price for their
crops, and have a lower ability to be adequately nourished, or a lower
ability to be educated (if they cannot afford sending their children to
schools as a consequence of their loss of income).

The recurrent idea of the capability approach is that human freedom

is curtailed by poverty. Poverty makes people unable to lead a life they
have reason to choose and value. For example, a clever female teenager
in a rural village in Zambia dreams of going to go to university and be
a doctor, but her freedom to choose such a life is crippled by the poverty
of her family who cannot pay for her going to school and by the inability
of the government to offer free education for all. Such a conceptualisa-
tion of the link between freedom and poverty is explicit in Gaudium et

Human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty, just as
it withers when he indulges in too many of life’s comforts and imprisons himself in
a kind of splendid isolation. Freedom acquires new strength, by contrast, when a
man consents to the unavoidable requirements of social life, takes on the manifold
demands of human partnership, and commits himself to the service of the human

The core element of the capability approach, human agency, and the
ability of people to shape their own destiny, is also implicitly underpin-
ning Gaudium et spes. It has however been made more explicit in the
later encyclical Populorum progressio: “Man is truly human only if he

Vatican II. Gaudium et spes. 1965.
Gaudium et spes, 31.1.

is the master of his own actions and the judge of their worth, only if he
is the architect of his own progress. He must act according to his God-
given nature, freely accepting its potentials and its claims upon him.”19
This emphasis on making people actors of their own lives has been
particularly exemplified in Catholic social thinking in what is known as
the principle of subsidiarity. The encyclical Mater et magistra defines it
in the following terms: “Neither the State nor any society must ever
substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and
of intermediate communities at the level on which they can function,
nor must they take away the room necessary for their freedom.”20

While the capability approach talks about the importance of the

moral sentiments of “sympathy” and “commitment”, or in other words of
other-regarding concerns for reducing poverty and increasing the free-
doms of people to live a life they have reason to value, Gaudium et
spes uses the word “solidarity”. It underlines that an emphasis on free-
dom has to go hand in hand with an equal emphasis on solidarity. The
encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis defines solidarity as “this firm and
constant determination to work for the common good; that is, for the
good of all and each because we are all responsible for all.”21 Gaudium
et spes had earlier defined the common good as “the sum of those con-
ditions of social life which allow social groups and their in-
dividual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own

This is where the striking similarities between the capability ap-

proach to development and Gaudium et spes cease. The capability ap-
proach conceives human well-being in terms of the freedoms that indi-
viduals have reason to choose and value. These freedoms are properties
of individuals. Although the capability approach does acknowledge that
some freedoms, such as democratic freedom, are valuable freedoms
which cannot be reduced to individual characteristics, they are valuable
to the extent that they are “a significant ingredient—a critically impor-
tant component—of individual capabilities.”23 The importance and
value of democratic freedom are only relevant to the extent that they
enter as a component of individual human well-being, to the extent that
it makes the lives of individuals better.

Paul VI. Populorum progressio. 1967, 34.
John XXIII. Mater et magistra. 1961, 138.
John Paul II. Sollicitudo rei socialis. 1987, 38.
Gaudium et spes, 26.
Sen, Amartya. “Symposium on Development as Freedom: Response to Commen-
taries.” Studies in Comparative International Development. 37.2 (2002), p. 79.

Social arrangements are to be “investigated in terms of their contri-

bution to enhancing and guaranteeing the substantive freedoms of in-
dividuals.”24 As Sen insists, all actions finally bear upon their effects on
the lives that human beings live, lives which are only lived by individu-
als and not by some supra-individual subjects. Individual lives are
deeply dependent and inter-connected, but they are not in fusion: “The
intrinsic satisfactions that occur in a life must occur in an individual’s
life, but in terms of causal connections, they depend on social interac-
tions with others.”25 For the capability approach, other-regarding con-
cerns are important because they increase “my” quality of life, and
“your” quality of life. While for Catholic social thinking, other-regarding
concerns are important because they increase “our quality of life”, be-
cause “my” life can only be full improved if “our” lives are improved.26

By using the example of migration remittances in El Salvador, I will

argue that contemporary development theory would need to be an-
chored into a common good approach to development if it is to offer
sufficient benchmarks for promoting human well-being. If individual
freedom and individual agency fail to be understood within the wider
framework of the common good, then a freedom-centred approach to
development, such as the capability approach and the human develop-
ment paradigm, can hope to do very little to address human depriva-
tions, and remove the unfreedoms that deprive so many people of living
a life they have reason to choose and value.

Migration Remittances in El Salvador

El Salvador is one of the poorest countries of Latin America. While 20

per cent of the Latin American population live with less than $2 a day
in 2001, almost half of the Salvadorian population does so (table 1). The
figure is especially high in rural areas, where more than 60 per cent of
the population is labelled as “poor”. The signature of the Peace Agree-
ments in 1992, which marked the end of the Salvadorian civil war, does
not seem to have brought along a better social context. Poverty in rural
areas is even higher in 2001 than in 1994, and poverty in urban areas
has stagnated.

Sen, Development as Freedom, p. xiii. Italics added.
Sen. “Symposium on Development as Freedom”, p. 85.
For the differences between liberal political thought and Catholic social thinking
on the issue of the common good, see Keys, Mary M. “Personal Dignity and the Common
Good: A Twentieth-Century Thomistic Dialogue.” Catholicism, Liberalism and Com-
munitarianism. Eds. K. Grasso, G. Bradley and R. Hurt. London: Rowan and Lit-
telfield. 173-195.

Table 1. Percentage of Families Below the Poverty Line (Percentage of Families

Whose Income Is Double the Costs of a Basket of Basic Food, or Below $2 a Day)
1980 1990 1994 1999 2001

Total Total Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural

El Salvador — — 48a 40 58 44 34 59 48.9 39.4 62.4

LAC average 35 41 38 32 56 35 30 54 20.3b 17.5b 24.3b

Source: CEPAL, Statistical Yearbook, 2002 and 2004.

Data for 1995.
Data for 2002.

Table 2. Illiteracy Rates (Population Above 15 Who Cannot Read and Write)
Total Male Female

1980 1990 2000 2005 1980 1990 2000 2005 1980 1990 2000 2005

El Salvador 33.8 27.4 21.3 18.9 29.1 23.7 18.4 16.4 38.4 30.7 23.9 21.2
Costa Rica 8.3 6.1 4.4 3.8 8.1 6.1 4.5 3.9 8.4 6.1 4.3 3.7
LAC average — — 11.7 9.5 — — — 8.8 — — — 10.3

Source: CEPAL, Statistical Yearbook, 2002 and 2004.

When assessed in terms of the capability approach, the well-being of

the Salvadorian population does not fare much better than when as-
sessed in monetary terms. The tables compare with data from Costa
Rica, which is well-known for its exceptional achievements in human
development.27 In 2005, illiteracy rates were still about twice the Latin
American average, and the decrease in illiteracy rates has been even
during the last two decades. This suggests that the end of the civil war
in 1992 did not bring significant improvements in tackling illiteracy
(table 2). In terms of the capability to be healthy, as measured for
example by access to basic services, table 3 shows that a quarter of the
population still does not have access to piped water in 2003. The per-
centage of people who have access to a sewage system has not increased
significantly during the 1990s. More than 40 per cent of the population
does not have access to a sewage system. These figures critically reflect
the lack of public action in promoting people’s well-being, as illustrated
by a low public spending on education and health (tables 4 and 5).

There has been a long history of migration to the United States

prompted by the civil war during the 1970s and 1980s. After the sig-
nature of the Peace Agreements in 1992, few migrants did return to El
Salvador, and migration to the United States has continued at an even

Jolly, Richard and Santosh Merothra, eds. Development with a Human Face. Ox-
ford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Table 3. Access to Basic Services

Access to Piped Water Sewage System Electricity

1990 1995 2003 1990 1995 2003 1990 1995 2003

El Salvador 67.7 67.2 73.6 54.3 53.5 59.7 91.7 94.9 90.6
Costa Rica — — 99.5 — — — — — 99.8

Source: CEPAL, Statistical Yearbook, 2004.

Table 4. Public Spending on Education (as a Percentage of GDP)

1980 1985 1990 1995 1998 2000 2001

El Salvador 3.4 2.7 2.0 2.2 2.4 2.6 2.5

Costa Rica 6.5 5.1 4.2 4.4 5.3 4.8 5.0
LAC average — — — — 4.5 — —

Source: CEPAL, Statistical Yearbook, 2002 and 2004.

higher pace. Only the reasons behind migration changed. What was
once the search for a safe haven from the violence of the civil war has
become the search for a better economic and social life. It is estimated
that about two millions Salvadorians live in the US (out of a total
population of 6.3 millions). Half of the Salvadorians in the US are
estimated to be undocumented without proper visa, working mainly as
domestic workers, cleaners, construction workers. In 2004, remittances
amounted to more than 16 per cent of the country’s GDP, a figure that
is growing higher as years go on, as table 6 indicates. The share of
remittances in the country’s GDP has tripled in the last fifteen years.

The presence of remittances makes a significant difference in the life

of poor families. A survey conducted with 200 families in 2002 in a
district of El Salvador (with a total number of 326 families of which only
4 families were “non-poor”), obtained the following results:28 35.5 per
cent of families had migrants, more than two thirds of migrants were
men below 25, half of migrants had only primary education, and 85 per
cent of them had gone illegally. The study also revealed that the money
from remittances was essentially spent on consumption goods, mainly
food, medication, education, and telecommunications.

Remittances also seem to play a non-negligible role in the decision of

parents to send their children to school. A study showed that remit-

Benavides, B., X. Ortiz, C. Silva, and L. Vega. ¿Pueden las Remesas Comprar el
Futuro?. Universidad CentroAmericana: San Salvador, 2003, mimeograph.

Table 5. Public Spending on Health

1980 1985 1990 1995 1998 2003

El Salvador 1.5 1.3 1 1.3 — —

Costa Rica 7.2 5 7.2 7.1 7.4 6.7
LAC average — — — — 3.1 —

Source: CEPAL, Statistical Yearbook, 2002 and 2004.

Table 6. Participation of Remittances in GDP (in Percentage)

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2004

5.9 9.8 11.5 11.8 12.0 11.2 10.3 10.5 11.3 11.2 13.2 13.6 16.2

Source: UNDP. Informe de Desarrollo Nacional. UNDP: San Salvador, 2002, and Sal-
vadorian Central Bank.

tances had a significant impact on school retention, as family budget is

the primary factor for school drop-outs.29 In urban areas, remittances of
US$100 lowers the hazard of leaving primary school by more than a
half, and by more than a quarter in rural areas (in rural areas, the
family budget is not the main constraint for school enrolment, distance
from school is another important factor).

Not only do individual migrants put their own individual efforts for
improving their well-being and that of their family members, they are
also putting together collective efforts. This phenomenon of collective
remittances is also known in the literature of migration as “hometown
associations”, which are organizations of immigrants which channel the
money earned by immigrants in order to improve their communities of
origin.30 Hometown associations usually finance central public goods of
a community, such as road infrastructures, school maintenance, water
and sanitation facilities, and community recreation facilities. Empirical
studies of some hometown associations in Mexico have found that in
some communities, the donations of immigrants through these associa-
tions represent as much as the amount the municipality allocates to
public works.31

Cox, A., and M. Ureta. “International Migration, Remittances and Schooling: Evi-
dence from El Salvador.” NBER Working Paper Series. 9766. Cambridge, MA, 2003.
Orozco, Manuel, with Michelle Lapointe. 2004. “Mexican Hometown Associations
and Development Opportunities.” Journal of International Affairs 57.2 (2004): 1-21.
Orozco, Manuel, and Katherine Welle. “Hometown Associations and Development:
A Look at Ownership, Sustainability, Correspondence, and Replicability.” New Patterns
for Mexico Observations on Remittances, Philanthropic Giving, and Equitable Develop-

El Salvador does not escape from this growing phenomenon of collec-

tive remittances. For example, the government’s social investment
fund, the Fondo de Inversión Social para el Desarrollo Local (FISDL) is
using collective remittances to finance social investment in municipali-
ties.32 Unfortunately, no studies exist so far regarding the extent and
impact of collective remittances on El Salvador’s social development.

Despite the dearth of data, the hypothesis which can be advanced is

that migration risks taking over the role of what was once the respon-
sibility of governments: the provision of public goods. Migration may be
one way of shaping one’s own destiny and improving one’s own well-
being, the well-being of family members and of members of their com-
munity of origin (in the case of collective remittances), migration is a
form of agency which risks replacing a structural solution to poverty. As
long as families and communities get their needs met by migration,
there are little incentives to render the government accountable for
its neglect of its responsibilities of providing public goods. To borrow
Hirschman’s famous terms, migration is a form of “exit” strategy which
does not encourage people to “voice” their concerns regarding the gov-
ernment’s incompetence in fulfilling its social duties.33 Hirschmann
had argued that three options were open to those using an imperfect
public service: 1) “exit” where people exit the service and find their own
private solution to provide the service (such as funding the public ser-
vice through migration remittances); 2) “voice” where people keep using
the imperfect service and voice their concern to demand improvement
(such as for example public protests to demand improvement); and 3)
“loyalty” where people simply put up with the imperfections of the
service delivery.

By encouraging an “exit” strategy to public services, migration si-

lences the “voice” strategy, hence providing the fuel for further migra-
tion and further “exits”. The paradox is that migrants contribute to a
system which further excludes them. Migrants contribute to a type of

ment. Ed. Barbara J. Merz. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. The
article cites the case of a school improvement project in a Mexican municipality which
was three times the budget that the municipality allocated to public works in education.
Lugo, Mario. “La Política Migratoria del Actual Gobierno. Una Revisión Critica.”
Revista de Estudios CentroAmericanas 648, 2002. 873-8.
Hirschman, Alfred. Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1970. I thank James Copestake for drawing my attention to the parallels
between migration and Hirschman’s work.

social development which increases dependence on migration.34 While

being a temporary solution to meet family and community needs, by
silencing “voice”, migration breeds itself in an unsustainable way. Poor
people would need to rely endlessly on migration to pay for health care
and education, and communities would need to rely endlessly on mi-
gration to finance public infrastructures and utilities.

This erosion of “voice” is especially reflected in the lack of political

participation. Most Salvadorians do not consider the government,
through its elected representatives, as the major agent of change in the
Salvadorian society. A political survey concluded that,35 in 1999, only
five per cent of the population trusted political parties. In 2000, less
people trusted electoral processes than in 1994. In 2000, while 54 per
cent believe that democracy is the best political system, 10.3 per cent
would like a return to an authoritarian government, and 21.2 per cent
are indifferent to a democratic or authoritarian regime. It is also wor-
rying to observe that the Salvadorian government strongly encourages
migration as a poverty exit mechanism, and sees migration as a positive
aspect of globalisation.

When assessed in terms of individual well-being, migration is a posi-

tive way of exercising agency for the sake of promoting one’s own well-
being and that of the members of the same community. The shift from
public to private provisioning of health and education for example
equally promote people’s freedoms to be healthy and educated, and
perhaps even better if private provisioning of public goods is linked to
greater efficiency in delivery.

Migration is also a powerful sympathy and commitment-based action.

Often migrants undergo a loss in their own well-being (such as the risk
entailed by the illegal travel to the US) for the sake of other members
of the family. Fathers go abroad to secure a better living for their
children. Sons go abroad for the sake of securing health care to their
parents. Assessed in terms of the capability approach, migration can
thus be seen as a good way of promoting individual freedoms. However,
there is a strong argument that migration may be undermining incen-
tives to undertake structural reforms towards the promotion of human
well-being. This in turn may be increasing the likelihood that poor
people will look for better living options abroad, further undermining

Vega, Lilian. “Diaspora Salvadoreña.” Revista de Estudios CentroAmericanas 648,
2002. 901-10.
UNDP. Informe de Desarrollo Nacional. UNDP: San Salvador, 2002, chapter 5.

the country’s capacity to promote human well-being. In other words,

migration is a form of exercising individual agency for the sake of en-
hancing human well-being which may erode other forms of individual
agency such as participation in the kinds of political activity which
build up socially responsible public institutions. The individual agency
that Sen’s capability approach stresses as being so important for pro-
moting human well-being may fail to do so in the long run if expanding
human well-being goes on being considered in terms of the freedoms of
individuals. When well-being is considered in terms of the common
good, there is hope for individual agency to address human deprivations
more effectively.

A Common Good Approach to Development

The concept of the common good has a long history, which can be
traced back to Aristotle. Although not talking of the ‘common good’ as
such, Aristotle affirms that the political community exists for the sake
of the good of the community which embraces all other goods:

Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with
a view to some good; for everyone always acts in order to obtain that which they
think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political com-
munity, which is the highest good of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at
good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.36

The encyclical Gaudium et spes directly paraphrases the above passage:

The political community exists for the sake of the common good, in which it finds
its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy.
Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life
whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain
their own perfection.37

In a seminal contribution to the political debate in the United King-

dom, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales issued in
1996 a report entitled The Common Good. The common good was de-
fined therein as “the whole network of social conditions which enable
human individuals and groups to flourish and live a fully, genuinely
human life, otherwise described as ‘integral human development’. All

Aristotle. Politics. Revised Oxford Translation. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1995, 1252a 1-6.
Gaudium et Spes, 74.

are responsible for all, collectively, at the level of society or nation, not
only as individuals.”38

The central idea of the common good is that it is a good shared in by

all those who are forming a certain community. The common good “is
immanent within the relationships that bring this community or soci-
ety into being.”39 The common good is a good that goes beyond indi-
vidual human well-being. It is “a good proper to, and attainable only by,
the community, yet individually shared by its members.”40 The good of
each community member cannot be separated from the good of the
community as a whole. The common good of the community and the
good of the members are mutually implicating.41 Lisa Cahill writes
that, “The common good defines a solidaristic association of persons
that is more than the good of individuals in the aggregate. ‘Common
good’ says something about social communication and cooperation as
essential to the fulfilment of our very personhood.”42

The idea of the common good has tended to be received with quite
some scepticism in secular writings. As emphasised earlier, the capa-
bility approach insists that social arrangements are to be assessed in
terms of the freedoms of individuals, and not the freedom of some col-
lective body, which would be more than the aggregation of the freedoms
of individuals. Secular writings might accommodate the idea that a
good would be common to all (for example, democratic freedom would be
such a good), but it does not accommodate very well the idea that such
a common good has an existence in its own right. The capability ap-
proach fully embraces the fact that “the welfare of individual persons is
contingent upon the interdependent social relations that constitute the
common good”43 But it would not accommodate the statement that,
“yet, the common good is a value in its own right, as more than the
aggregate of the individuals participating in it.”44

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The Common Good and the
Catholic Church’s Social Teaching. Catholic Bisphop’s Conference: London, 1996, para-
graph 48.
Hollenbach, David. The Common Good and Christian Ethics. Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 2002, p. 9.
Dupré, Louis. “The Common Good and the Open Society.” Catholicism and Liber-
alism. Eds. R. Bruce Douglass, and David Hollenbach. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1994, p. 172.
Hollenbach. The Common Good, p. 189.
Cahill, Lisa. Bioethics and the Common Good. Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette Uni-
versity Press, 2004, p. 9.
Ibid., p. 42. See also footnote 25 for a similar quote in Amartya Sen’s writings.

I have summarised five objections that secular writings may formu-

late to the idea of the common good. First, the idea of the common good
is another form of talking about the need for adequate institutional
arrangements to promote individual human well-being. The common
good is in that sense instrumental to individual flourishing. Second, the
common good might trump individualities and subsume them into a
totalitarian system. Third, it is similar to the idea of public good in
economics. Fourth, the common good is a disguised way of talking about
a good which is common to human life, and therefore can amount to the
human rights or lists of human well-being.45 Finally, is the idea of “a”
common good or “the” common good which matters?
The first objection is that there is actually no need for an explicit idea
of the common good. It is just another way of talking about the need for
institutional arrangements which are shared by the members of a same
community and which contribute to promoting the good of each of its
members. This instrumental vision has especially been portrayed by
the natural law developed by John Finnis. For Finnis, the common good
is “the whole ensemble of material and other conditions, including
forms of collaboration, that tend to favour, facilitate and foster the
realization by each individual of his or her personal development.”46
The common good is hence a question of creating the conditions in
which people can pursue their own objectives.47 A common good ap-
proach to development would thus insist on the importance of the in-
stitutional conditions in which people can pursue the freedoms they
have reason to choose and value. This is actually what Sen’s capability
approach already says.
Such view of the common good as instrumental for pursuing one’s
personal fulfilment is however incompatible with the essence of the
common good. Personal fulfilment or the pursuit of one’s own well-being
requires participating in goods that transcend individuals. Although
some social conditions are necessary for individual freedoms to be met,
and in some sense the common good is instrumental to the good of each
individual, the common good is part of individual flourishing itself. As
Hollenbach noted in what is the major contemporary academic study to
date on the issue, the shared life of interaction with others is a good in

For lists of human well-being, see Alkire, Sabina. Valuing Freedoms. Oxford: Ox-
ford University Press, 2002.
Finnis, John. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980, p.
For a critique of Finnis’s view on the common good, see Pakaluk, Michael. “Is the
Common Good of Political Society Limited and Instrumental?.” Review of Metaphysics
60.1 (2001). 57-94.

itself, and this is why it cannot be disaggregated into the good of each
individual, “for such disaggregation dissolves the bonds of relationship
that constitute an important part of good lives”.48 This leads Hollen-
bach to conclude that the common good can best be described as the
good of being a community, as “the good realized in the mutual rela-
tionships in and through which human beings achieve their well-
being.”49 These words echo the words of one of the main revivers of the
idea of the common good in the modern world, the Thomist philosopher
Jacques Maritain:

We must not say that the aim of society is the individual good (or the mere collec-
tion of individual goods) of each person who constitutes it. This formula would
dissolve society as such for the benefit of its parts, and would lead to the ‘anarchy
of atoms’. The end of society is the common good. But if one fails to grasp the fact
that the good of the body politic is a common good of human persons, this formula
may lead in its turn to other errors of the collectivist or totalitarian type. [. . .] The
common good of society is neither a simple collection of private goods, a good
belonging to a whole which draws the parts to itself [. . .]. The common good is the
good human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion
in the good life; it is therefore common to the whole and to the parts, on which it
flows back and who must all benefit from it.50

The above quotation answers by the same token the second objection.
The idea of the common good does not trump individualities, but en-
hances them. By participating in the common good, i.e., by participating
in the whole network of social conditions which enable human individu-
als and groups to flourish, individuals are better able to improve their
own well-being. For example, by paying one’s taxes, one participates in
these conditions that will allow oneself, and other members of the com-
munity to better flourish (if tax money is used to finance public goods
such as the National Health Service). Or to cite another example, by
participating in the life of the community through establishing trade
unions and being a member of them, one is able to enhance the estab-
lishment of labour conditions (such as minimum legal wage, legal holi-
day, sickness leave) for the sake of one’s own good and the good of
others. Participating in the common good, in a good shared by all, does
not hence sacrifice individual flourishing for the sake of the flourishing
of the group. Enhancing the flourishing of the group does enhance in
the long run the flourishing of each individual. One has to acknowledge,

Hollenbach, The Common Good, p. 81.
Maritain, Jacques. “The Human Person and Society.” Degrees of Knowledge. J.
Maritain. London: G. Bles, the Centenary Press, 1937, p. 55. See also Maritain,
Jacques. The Person and the Common Good. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1946.

however, that in some extreme cases, individual flourishing might be

sacrificed for the sake of the group in the short run. For example, a
trade unionist in a dictatorship might be put into prison and be tor-
tured, but his or her action will pave the way for a greater good for his
or her fellow workers and future generations. Cases where individual
flourishing might be severely trumped for the sake of the collective are
however exceptional.

This example offers a response to the third objection that I have

identified, that of the similarity with the already existing idea of public
good in economics. One of the key characteristics of a public good is its
non-exclusive character. Participation in the good does not exclude
other people’s participation in it. By using the public good of public
transport, I do not exclude others using that public transport (provided
one has not reached the saturation point of use). Participation in the
common good is different in the sense it does not only not exclude
another person’s participation, but actually promotes it. For example,
by working towards establishing the structural conditions for decent
labour, one does not exclude others from decent labour but one facili-
tates other people’s contribution in establishing these structural con-
ditions, and furthering the possibilities of decent labour. Workers might
militate for the right of setting up trade unions for the sake of guaran-
teeing minimum living wages. Once the trade union is legally estab-
lished and politically recognised, it might facilitate the claim of further
labour guarantees such as maternity cover or sickness leave.

Fourth, if the common good is a good shared in by all, then one could
say that lists of human well-being, such as Martha Nussbaum’s list of
ten central human capabilities,51 exemplifies in some sense the com-
mon good, as these central human capabilities represent a good shared
by all humans—all human beings, by virtue of being human, would
need to have these capabilities in order to have a good human life. This
is however a precipitated conclusion. The concept of the common good
goes actually beyond what is “the good human life”. The common good
is the common life of the community and the structural conditions for
the good human life. While the human good is a good that only dwells
in individual lives (for example health is a good that only individuals
have), the common good is a good that dwells beyond individual lives. In
that sense, the idea of the common good is very close to the idea of
“structures of living together” put forward by the philosopher Paul

Nussbaum, Martha. “Human Functioning and Social Justice: In Defense of Aris-
totelian Essentialism.” Political Theory 20 (1992): 202-246.

Ricoeur. He defined them as structures which belong to a particular

historical community, which provide the conditions for individual lives
to flourish, and which are irreducible to interpersonal relations and yet
bound up with these.52 The common good could be seen as the sum of
these structures of living together. It is irreducible to interpersonal
relations. It is something that emerges from life in common, from the
“living together” in human communities.

This leads us to our final point, what is “the common good”? Is it

possible to identify the set of all these structures of living together
which provide the conditions for individual lives to flourish? Or better
speak about “a common good” that is relative to different communities?
A common good would hence be a good that a particular historical
community shares in common and that sustains its life in common.
Considering “a” instead of “the” common good would quickly fall in a
certain form of relativism. If one endorses the view that there is such an
idea of “the” human good, a good common to all humans in their quality
of being human, it follows that one can endorse the idea of the common
good that makes the good human life in common possible. The idea of
the human good does not pretend having an objective and exhaus-
tive definition of what the human good consisted of. Similarly, the idea
of the common good can, and has to, be left vague as one will never be
able to exhaust all the structures that sustain the good human life in
Concluding Remarks
A common good approach to development focuses not as much on the
freedoms that individuals may have as on the structural conditions
supporting these freedoms. Within such an approach, individual agency
is seen as the ability to promote the conditions in which the well-being
of oneself as a member of a certain political community can be en-
hanced. Not any type of individual agency is central for addressing
human deprivations, but the type of individual agency which builds the
structures of life in community. While Sen’s capability approach focuses
on individuals, and then looks at institutional arrangements to promote
the well-being of individuals, a common good approach focuses on the
institutions themselves, in addition to individuals, because it is pre-
cisely within these institutions that individuals are formed and nur-

Ricoeur’s original definition refers to institution: “By institution, we understand
the structure of living together as this belongs to a historical community, a structure
irreducible to interpersonal relations and yet bound up with these.” See Ricoeur, Paul.
One Self as Another. Trans. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1992, p. 194.

tured.53 Because the institutional fact is constitutive of a person’s in-

dividuality, it is not only the well-being of individuals which is to be
secured but also the well-being of these institutions.

Seeing membership to a community as constitutive of the self implies

seeing solidarity and responsibility at the heart of human freedom.
Indeed, the very idea of the common good “implies that every indi-
vidual, no matter how high or low, has a duty to share in promoting the
welfare of the community as well as a right to benefit from that wel-
fare.”54 The human being is fully free and human to the extent that he
or she is responsible for others.55

For freedom and solidarity to be mutually self-reinforcing, one would

need an adequate institutional framework that promotes people’s par-
ticipation in the common good for the greatest advantage of all. Hol-
lenbach insists that such an institutional framework is a requirement
of social justice: “Social justice requires an overall institutional frame-
work that will enable people both to participate actively in building up
the common good and to share in the benefits of the common good.”56 Of
such adequate institutional frameworks, he singles out participation in
the political life as a constitutive part of the pursuit of the common
good. When political participation is low, the common good is low as
well, and people have less freedom to determine the conditions of the
life they share together. A low political participation confines people to
pursue the good they can in their private lives.57 The example of mi-
gration in El Salvador well illustrates this point.

In today’s increasingly more connected world, the prophetic words of

Gaudium et spes expressed forty years ago still have a forceful actual-
ity. Unless one realises that the human being is free only to the extent
that he or she participates in the good that is common to all, not only
the good of their families, or communities of origin, but the good of
all humans and the natural environment, a good that surpasses all
individual good, very little can indeed be achieved to address human

Hollenbach, The Common Good.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The Common Good, para-
graph 70.
This point has particularly been emphasised by the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei So-
cialis, paragraph 33.8: “In order to be genuine, development must be achieved within
the framework of solidarity and freedom, without ever sacrificing either of them under
whatever pretext.”
Hollenbach, The Common Good, p. 201.
Ibid., p. 100.
Gaudium et Spes Suggests a Change in
Moral Imagination to Ensure the Just
Treatment of Women

Marilyn Martone

Gaudium et spes (GS) is a pastoral constitution that puts a great deal

of emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the solidarity of the
entire human family. It encourages us to support this dignity and soli-
darity in the context of the modern world, to scrutinize the “signs of the
times,” and to interpret these signs in the light of the gospel.1 It rec-
ognizes the shift from a static concept of reality to a more dynamic and
evolutionary one and highlights various concerns that have arisen as a
result of this shift.2 One of the concerns that the document highlights is
the social relationships between men and women.3 The constitution
stresses that “every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural,
whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language, or religion,
is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”4 Gaudium
et spes recognizes discrimination as an evil that is to be overcome and
encourages us to work towards the elimination of discrimination.

Forty years after the publication of Gaudium et spes, women around

the world are still struggling to be treated with dignity, to be afforded
basic human rights, and to live free from the threats of violence and
injustice, despite attempts that have been made to legislate rights and
protections. Women suffer from systematic discrimination in every
country in the world, whether it is through more explicit and violent
forms as in many Third World countries and patriarchal societies, or
subtler job discrimination and pay inequities that occur in Western
societies. Individual countries, as well as the United Nations, have

Marilyn Matone is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s
University (NY).

GS, 4.
GS, 5.
GS, 8.
GS, 29.



enacted laws to end discriminatory practices, but, even in countries

that have ratified the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimi-
nation Against Women (CEDAW), state delegations consistently report
how difficult it is to change traditions and stereotypes. This paper
makes the case that to change the plight of women around the world
there must be not only strong external controls and protections that
laws impose, but also a change in the moral imagination to break down
the cultural traditions and stereotypes that allow women to be treated
as less than human. First, we must recognize the stereotypes that per-
sist to harm women and how these lead to violence and discrimination.

Treating Women as Property

Women, in many countries, are viewed as property and as belonging

to someone, overwhelmingly a male. William Countryman in his book,
Dirt, Greed, and Sex, shows how traditionally in patriarchal families
women are defined by property rights. They belong to the male head of
the household. Countryman states that “property denotes something
which is understood as an extension of the self, so that a violation of my
property is a violation of my personhood.”5 In this framework, injuries
done to women are wrong because they are injuries done to the head of
the household. The head of the household, however, can dispose of his
property as he wishes.

Women, as property, are used for sexual fulfillment, economic advan-

tages, power plays, reproductive lineage, etc. Women, in other words,
are at the disposal of their owner. In many countries this image of
women continues and globalization, with its emphasis on laissez-faire
capitalism, only strengthens this image. Where women have no other
financial resources, they too sometimes regard their bodies as property
and sell it for financial gain whether it is through prostitution or more
and more frequently for reproductive reasons, only now they regard
themselves as the owner of this property.

Women and Violence

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women

defines violence as “any gender-based violence that results in, or is
likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to
women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation

L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed and Sex (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988)

of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”6 It includes but

is not limited to:

“(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the fam-

ily, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the
household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital
mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women,
non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;

(b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the

general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harass-
ment and the intimidation at work, in educational institutions
and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;

(c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or con-

doned by the State, wherever it occurs.”7
Although there are many international documents and treaties that
condemn violence against women, violence against women continues at
unprecedented rates. One in three women throughout the world will
suffer from violence simply because they are female and most likely at
the hands of their intimate partners. A common feature in all forms of
violence against women is that of domination. Men view themselves as
the dominators of women and use violence to assert their power.
“Through this assertion of power, men instill fear in women, control
their behaviour, appropriate their labour, exploit their sexuality and
deny them access to the public world.”8 Because men control the knowl-
edge systems, violence against women has been trivialized and often
viewed as a private matter. In many countries, men view themselves as
the owners of the women in their family, and this belief has become
strongly embedded in cultural and traditional practices. “Cultural
norms associated with abuse include tolerance of physical punishment
of women and children, acceptance of violence as a means to settle
interpersonal disputes, and the perception that men have ‘ownership’ of
women.”9 When women are viewed as property and not as persons it
becomes almost impossible for them to leave abusive relationships es-
pecially if there are children involved or if dowries have been paid.
There is also a strong link between violence against women and HIV/
AIDS. The virus is both a cause and a consequence of violence against

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Articles 1 and 2.
Not a Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women. UNIFEM, p. 18.
Ibid., p. 62.

women. In many societies the women who are tested for the AIDS virus
are pregnant women and if they test positive they are accused of bring-
ing the virus into their families even if they have been infected by their
male partners.10 Women also become HIV infected as a result of rape
and sexual assaults and in many marital relationships they do not have
the power to refuse sex with an infected spouse. A recent UN study done
in South Africa “showed that women who were beaten by their hus-
bands or boyfriends were 48 per cent more likely to become infected by
HIV than those who were not. Those who were emotionally or finan-
cially dominated by their partners were 52 per cent more likely to be
infected than those who were not dominated.”11

When countries are in conflict or at war the violence against women

escalates. Not only does domestic violence increase but also women are
raped and trafficked in overwhelming numbers. For example, during
the 1994 genocide in Rwanda between 250,000 and 500,000 women and
girls were raped.12 To highlight the atrocities done against women in
conflict I quote from the UN experts who traveled the world and lis-
tened to women’s testimony and published the document, Women, War,

But knowing all of this did not prepare us for the horrors women described. Wombs
punctured with guns. Women raped and tortured in front of their husbands and
children. Rifles forced into vaginas. Pregnant women beaten to induce miscar-
riages. Foetuses ripped from wombs. Women kidnapped, blindfolded and beaten on
their way to work or school. We saw the scars, the pain and the humiliation. We
heard accounts of gang rapes, rape camps and mutilation. Of murder and sexual
slavery. We saw the scars of brutality so extreme that survival seemed for some a
worse fate than death.13

Statistics show that during the wars of the last decade, 75% of the
victims were civilians, and the majority of those were women and chil-
dren. Women’s bodies become the battleground for men.

In addition to rape and sexual abuse, many women are trafficked out
of one country into another to be used in forced labor that often includes

Ibid., p. 75.
Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, A Joint Report by UNAIDS/
UNFPA/UNIFEM, 2004, pp. 45-46.
Women, War, Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed
Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-Building. United Nations Development
Fund for Women, 2002, p. 11.
Ibid., pp. 11-12.

prostitution.14 From 1995 to 2000, trafficking in women grew almost

50%, and it is estimated that almost two million women are trafficked
across borders annually.15 The annual profit from trafficking is be-
tween five and seven billion US dollars and this trafficking has become
the third largest source of profit to organized crime after drugs and
arms. Many of those trafficked are young girls. A 1995 survey in Cam-
bodia, indicated that 31% of the sex workers in Phnom Penh and 11
provinces were between the ages of 12 and 17.16 The Human Rights
Task Force in Cambodia reports that those children under 18 who were
trafficked were sold by various individuals: 44% were sold by interme-
diaries, 23% by family members, 17% by boyfriends, 6% by an employer,
6% by unknown persons. These girls are forced to service 20 to 30 men
a day.17 As a result many of these girls acquire sexually transmitted
diseases and HIV/AIDS.

Negating Women’s Decision-Making Capabilities

In addition to the explicit violence done against women, women are

also discriminated against in more subtle ways. One of the most promi-
nent methods is to keep women out of decision-making roles. As a
result, decisions are made for them. Women often have little input as to
what is in their best interests. Two ways this is systematically done is
to: (1) deny women education and (2) keep women in traditional care-
giving roles so that they have little time or energy to participate in the
political realm. Both of these approaches limit women’s economic secu-
rity and make them vulnerable. (Statistics show that seven out of ten of
the world’s poor are women and children.18)

Limiting Women’s Access to Education

Throughout the world many women and girls are illiterate. Without
an education women are unable to pursue further goods and are often
reduced to chattel. Statistics show that in the countries where women
are uneducated they are most likely to be regarded as the possessions
of men who use women to serve and cater to them without any reci-
procity on their part. Without an education, women often become dis-
posable and have little recourse from society. The four main reasons

Ibid., p. 14.
Ibid., p. 15.
See: <http://www.wfp.org,>. February 11, 2005.

why girls are less likely to attend school than boys worldwide are: “(a)
parents are more likely to spend meagre resources on educating a boy;
(b) many families do not understand the benefits of educating girls,
whose role is often narrowly viewed as being prepared for marriage,
motherhood and domestic responsibilities; (c) girls in many communi-
ties are already disadvantaged in terms of social status, lack of time
and resources, a high burden of domestic tasks and sometimes even a
lack of food; and (d) the burden of care for ill parents and younger
siblings often falls on girls, which jeopardizes their ability to attend

Devaluing Care-giving Responsibilities

One of the most difficult issues to address is women’s care-giving

activity. Throughout the world women are the primary caregivers. A
UN-NGO working group report states: “Sole responsibility for caring
for children, older people, the sick or disabled, combined with domestic
work, is a major barrier to women’s equality; this is because of the time
and energy it demands and the consequent stereotyping of women’s
capacities.”20 Nevertheless, this care-giving work that women provide
is essential to the maintenance of individuals and communities. The
former United Nations Secretary-General, Javier Perez stated: “The
way a society treats its children reflects not only its qualities of com-
passion and protective caring, but also its sense of justice, its commit-
ment to the future and its urge to enhance the human condition for
coming generations. This is as disputably true of the community of
nations as it is of nations individually.”21 Women cannot and should not
walk away from caregiving, nor should men. Caring for individuals who
need assistance is one of the most important tasks of a society. It is how
we best protect human dignity, asserting to individuals that they are of
value not only when they are free, independent individuals but also
when they are in need of care. It is how we best express our solidarity.
As Gaudium et spes states: “. . . we are witnesses of the birth of a new
humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility
toward his brothers and toward history.”22

Too frequently, however, this care-giving work has not been viewed as
work in the full sense of the word. In most societies it is not financially

Women and HIV/AIDS, p. 41.
Helen O’Connell. Women and the Family (London &New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd.,
1994) 53.
Ibid., p. 41.
GS, 55.

reimbursed nor valued. It is usually not included in nations’ GDPs. It is

also assumed that this work will be done by women without financial
reimbursement. Even when this work is part of the paid economy, such
as nurses’ aides, daycare workers, etc., it is at the bottom of the pay
scale. To keep women from becoming economically vulnerable, women
have been encouraged to enter the paid workforce and abandon their
care-giving responsibilities. This, however, has left many people who
are in need of care, unattended. There must be a new recognition that
it is not the care-giving labor that makes one vulnerable but the way
that care-giving labor is organized. Joan Tronto, in her book Moral
Boundaries, argues that “our perception that care is somehow tied to
subordinate status in society is not inherent in the nature of caring but
is a function of the structure of social values and moral boundaries that
inform our current ways of life.”23

Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World”
also stresses the importance of this work. Although the letter still links
caring labor more closely to women it concludes by stating:

Far from giving the Church an identity on an historically conditioned model of

femininity, the reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming,
humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the
spiritual history of Israel. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the
vocation of every baptized Christian. Regardless of the conditions, states of life,
different vocations with or without public responsibilities, they are an essential
aspect of Christian life. While these traits should be characteristic of every bap-
tized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness. In
this way, women play a role of maximum importance in the Church’s life by re-
calling these dispositions to all the baptized and contributing in a unique way
showing the true face of the Church, spouse of Christ and mother of believers. 24

The important point that John Paul is stressing here is that all of us,
male and female, are called to care for others. This is what our baptism
calls us to do. I am not arguing here whether women are more or less
adept at doing this labor than men but trying to make a case that
whoever does this work should not suffer from discrimination as a re-
sult of doing it. All societies must come to greater appreciations of this
labor and change structures and organizational patterns so that this
work can be done appropriately without having caregivers suffering

Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries (New York: Routledge, 1993) 63-64.
John Paul II, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of
Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” 2004, 16.

specifically because of the work they do. Care is a central concern for all
human life. But laws can only go so far. Peoples’ hearts also need to be
changed and I suggest that the church can play an important role in
this work by helping to reform moral imaginations.

Moral Imagination

Mark Johnson, defines the moral imagination as our: “. . . capacity to

see and to realize in some actual and contemplated experience possi-
bilities for enhancing the quality of experience, both for ourselves and
for the communities of which we are a part, both for the present and for
future generations, both for our existing practices and institutions as
well as for those we can imagine as potentially realizable.”25 He ex-
plains that the way we frame and categorize a situation will determine
how we reason about it, and how we frame it will depend on which
metaphorical concepts we use.26 He states: “Metaphor enters our moral
deliberation in three ways: (1) It gives rise to different ways of concep-
tualizing situations. (2) It provides different ways of understanding the
nature of morality as such (including metaphorical definitions of the
central concepts of morality, such as will, reason, purpose, right, good,
duty, well-being, etc.) (3) Metaphor also constitutes a basis for analo-
gizing and moving beyond the ‘clear’ or prototypical cases to new

Andrew Greeley highlights how the Catholic imagination is very at-

tuned to this way of reasoning because of its sacramental world-view.
The Catholic imagination, he states, “tends to emphasize the meta-
phorical nature of creation. The objects, events, and persons of ordinary
existence hint at the nature of God and indeed make God in some
fashion present to us.”28 For Catholics, God and grace lurk everywhere.

Metaphors have power. Paul Ricoeur in The Rule of Metaphor, re-

minds us that metaphor always involves a pair of terms or relation-
ships. He states: “If metaphor always involves a kind of mistake, if it
involves taking one thing for another by a sort of calculated error, then
metaphor has to disturb a whole network by means of an aberrant

Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993)
Ibid., p. 2.
Ibid., p. 10.
Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 2000) 6.

attribution.”29 Metaphors redescribe reality. They are the “apprehen-

sion of an identity within the difference between two terms.”30 It is
important therefore that we use our metaphors correctly because the
descriptive power of metaphor has the ability to change thought

Traditionally, the primary metaphor that has been used to define

women is that of “property.” William Countryman in his book Dirt,
Greed and Sex, demonstrates that the property metaphor played a pri-
mary role in patriarchal families. In such families, it is the male head
of the house who controls all other members. For example, “The wife
was a form of property; adultery was violation of the property of another
and should therefore be punished with violation of one’s own.”31 This
seems to still be the overriding metaphor in many societies. For in-
stance, when we find countries at war, men from the enemy ranks
frequently rape the women of the opposing sides as occurred during the
conflict in Rawanda. These rapes are not so much sexual acts as they
are demonstrations of power. The enemy is collecting the spoils of war
and women are part of those spoils. Just as the losers’ material posses-
sions are gathered and distributed, so are their women. One kills one’s
enemy; one rapes his property.

When women are viewed as property they become objectified and are
used and disposed of as men wish. They are not viewed as fully human
but as extensions of the male. If a man views his wife as property, he
may feel that by beating her he is only doing what he is entitled to do.
He can do what he wishes with his property and others should not
infringe on his rights. Women sometimes also internalize this property
metaphor only now they view themselves as the owners of property. We
hear this argumentation used when women claim that it is their right
to have an abortion. They view the fetus as an extension of themselves,
therefore, they should be able to dispose of the fetus as they wish.
Likewise, when women claim that they have a right to sell themselves
into prostitution they are using a property metaphor. Their claim is,
“It’s my body.” Property metaphors are individualistic metaphors that
separate owners of property from relationships to others. When one
owns something, that thing can be used solely at the owner’s discretion.
Property is disposable. One sells, rents, uses property as one wishes.

Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977)
Ibid., p. 26.
William Countryman, Dirt, Greed and Sex, p. 149.

Hence, under this metaphor, even when women are not abused, they
are still under the control of men. Men control their movement, their
daily activity, their citizenship, their state in life. The emphasis is not
on the well-being of the woman, for she has been reduced to a commod-
ity, but on how the woman, the extension of the male self, can promote
the well-being of the man. This usually means doing those activities
that he does not care to do such as preparing the food, maintaining the
household, caring for the children, the sick and the elderly.

Property metaphors stress individual ownership, autonomy, and con-

trol; remove bonds of reciprocity; and objectify persons. For women to be
regarded as fully human, this metaphor must be changed, and I would
suggest that the change should be to the metaphor of gift.

The Concept of Gift

Throughout Gaudium et spes, persons are referred to as gifts. We are

reminded that everything is a gift of God, and we are to use God’s gifts
to build up society. Gaudium et spes states that: “man, who is the only
creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself
except through a sincere gift of himself.”32 Likewise, when speaking of
the relationship between men and women the document speaks of the
“mutual gift of two persons.”33 Although Gaudium et spes repeatedly
uses the metaphor of gift, it does very little to develop what is meant by
gift. But a better understanding of this metaphor is necessary because
the concept of gift as it has been studied in the philosophical literature
often is referred to in economic terms, and as such has become suspect.
Jacques Derrida, for example, states that not only is the gift impossible,
but it is the impossible.34 To understand what he means by this, we
need to look at some of the seminal literature that defines gift and
explores the components of gift giving.

The Relationship between Givers and Receivers

Most researchers on the topic of gift would agree that one of the most
prominent works in this field is The Gift by Marcel Mauss.

GS, 24.
GS, 48.
Jacques Derrida, “The Time of the King,” in The Logic of the Gift, ed. Alan D.
Schrift (New York: Routledge, 1997) 124.

Mauss begins by examining the gift-giving systems in the archaic

societies of North America, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Oceania. He
highlights how gift giving in these societies is a social event that in-
volves collectivities and not individuals.35 Although the gift giving may
appear to be voluntary, it is strictly compulsory, and failure to partici-
pate in either the giving or receiving aspect of the process could possibly
lead to war because it would be viewed as a rejection of the bond of
alliance and commonality.36

Gift giving carries obligations. Mauss observed a three-part structure

to the gift giving in these societies. There was the gift, the obligation to
give, and the obligation to receive and reciprocate.37 The gift was im-
portant not only for the inherent quality of the object itself, but because
it was believed that in passing on a gift, one passes on part of oneself.
This was referred to as the hau.38 It was the hau of the thing that
yearned to be returned to its owner. Through the presence of the hau,
a connection was established between the giver and the receiver.
Hence, to make a gift to someone was to pass on part of oneself, and to
receive that gift was to receive part of the giver. In a diluted way, we
experience this in our culture, when we view a gift that we have been
given and begin to reminisce about the person who gave us the gift. We
may not believe that the gift carries the spirit of the giver, but the gift
does connect us, even if only momentarily, to the person who gave us
the gift.

One is obliged to give because this is the way that one proves one’s
good fortune. By sharing one’s fortune and giving it away, one puts
others into one’s debt. One can only give because one has also received.
The gift is not given in order to make others happy, but to establish a
relationship. Mauss states: “Yet it is also because by giving one is giving
oneself, and if one gives oneself, it is because one ‘owes’ oneself—one’s
person and one’s good—to others.”39

The obligation to receive is as important as the obligation to give.

When one is offered a gift, refusal to accept it would be refusal of not
only the gift but part of the giver as well, because the thing that is

Marcel Mauss, The Gift (London: W.W. Norton, 1990) 5.
Ibid., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 39.
Ibid., p. 12.
Ibid., p. 46.

passed on is infused with the individuality of the donor.40 It would also

mean refusing the bond that the gift would establish, for by accepting
the gift the receiver binds oneself to the giver. Although being a receiver
puts one in an inferior position to the giver, it also enables one to
become a giver oneself. The circle of giving is established and recipro-
cating gifts, passing on what one has been given, is central to the entire
concept of gift giving in archaic societies. Those who are the recipients
on one day become the givers on the next.41 Not to share what one has
received is to kill its essence and to destroy it both for oneself and for

Gift giving formed the central means of distribution in these societies.

Although there were obligations attached to all forms of the giving
process, the emphasis was not so much on the gift given, as it was on
the relationships and the bonds that were established in the process.
One was obliged to be generous, but one was also obliged not to refrain
from putting oneself into the debt of another. Everyone who was a giver
had also been a receiver. The very system depended on the fact that
gifts circulated, because if gifts were pulled out of circulation, the pro-
cess stopped. By pulling a gift out of circulation, one remained forever
indebted. All that one had had been given by another, hence one was in
a constant state of indebtedness. And yet, although all of these obliga-
tions existed, there was still the possibility that things could be other-
wise. One could refuse to give, and one could refuse to receive. Hence,
the concept of gift remained intact.

Mauss never explains, however, how the gifting process began. The
donor is already always a donee. Therefore, one never knows why there
is a gift in the first place. One is caught up in the circularity of gift
giving without understanding the logic behind the first gift, and if in
giving one gives oneself, then everyone spiritually becomes a member of
everyone else.43

It is because of this very circularity that Derrida states that there can
be no gift because in order to be gift, there must be no reciprocity,
return, exchange, countergift or debt.44 Each time that there is a coun-
tergift, the gift is annulled. Derrida concludes therefore that the only

Ibid., p. 62.
Ibid., p. 22.
Ibid., p. 57.
Marshall Sahlins, “The Spirit of the Gift,” in The Logic of the Gift, p. 85.
Derrida, p. 128.

thing that the gift gives is time—time to forget that a gift has been
given before a gift returns. It is the lapse of time between the gift and
the countergift that permits one to mask the contradiction between the
experience of the gift as a generous, gratuitous, unrequited act and the
fact that it is a stage in a relationship of exchange.45 Once it is realized
that gift giving is only a stage in a relationship of exchange, it should
also be realized that if one gives a gift that cannot be adequately re-
turned, relationships of dependency are established and there is no true
autonomy on the part of the receiver of the gift.

Gary Shapiro highlights, however, that Mauss would counter this

argument by stating that the phenomenon of gift as experienced in
archaic society cannot be understood in terms of the modern individu-
alistic and economic categories, where gift giving is an exception and
not the very nerve of communal life.46 In the economy of a gift giving
society, the gift is for all and none. It is put into circulation, but it is
destined to be the permanent possession of none.47 As it circulates, it
also establishes bonds of solidarity. The relationship between the giver
and the receiver is one of solidarity with reciprocal dependence, and,
although there is obligation attached to this process, the gift giving and
the resulting obligation are not calculated. Although one may be obliged
to give, one may not do so while calculating what one will receive in

Lewis Hyde defines gift as “a thing we do not get by our own efforts.
We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is
bestowed upon us.”49 It is therefore something that we are not entitled
to, but something that another has given to us, but need not have given
to us. Because we have been gifted we are pulled into the gifting circle
and are nudged towards becoming gift givers ourselves. The spirit of the
gift is kept alive by passing it on. Once one pulls the gift out of circu-
lation and amasses it for oneself, the gifting cycle is broken, and with it
new relationships are kept from developing. Gifts establish bonds and
evoke gratitude and generosity.

Pierre Bourdieu, “Marginalia—Some Additional Notes on the Gift,” The Logic of
the Gift, p. 231.
Gary Shapiro, “The Metaphysics of presents: Nietzsche’s Gift, the Debt to Emer-
son, Heidegger’s Values,” The Logic of the Gift, p. 275.
Maurice Godelier, The Enigma of the Gift (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1999) 48.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift (New York: Vintage Books, 1983) xi.

What is missing from these sociological and philosophical approaches

to gift giving is an understanding of why the circle of gift giving began
in the first place. Although there is an analysis of how the cycle works
once one is caught up in it, there is no attempt to discern how the
process began. Theology offers an explanation.

A Theological Approach

Enda McDonagh in his book, Gift and Call, stresses that all that is
comes from God. Everything that we have has been freely given to us by
God, and we are not entitled to any of it but are to receive it gratefully
and direct it towards accepting and helping others.50 It is not only our
possessions but our very selves that are gifts, and we are called to be a
particular individual human being. We can become givers, therefore,
because we have been receivers—receivers not only of objects but of our
very existence.

To do this, however, we need to begin with a recognition of our total

dependence on others and refuse the appearance of self-sufficiency.
Takeo Dai in his book, The Anatomy of Dependence, stresses how this is
a difficult concept for Western societies to comprehend. In the West
there is an emphasis on self-reliance and self-sufficiency. In Japan,
however, dependency is honored and the persons who embody it in its
purest forms are most qualified to stand at the top of Japanese soci-
ety.51 In the West, market economies make dependency and gifts sus-
pect and marginalize gifts to the private realm where they become
unrelated to issues of justice. Generosity is displaced from the public

Webb in his book, The Gifting God, analyzes how this plays out in
Western, capitalistic societies. He stresses that in capitalistic societies,
needs are exploited for profit and one does not give to others what they
need so that they too can become gift givers. Rather one takes advan-
tage of their needs for one’s own aggrandizement.52 This market ap-
proach attempts to remove property from circulation and those who
exchange are treated as strangers and remain so after the exchange has
taken place. In this approach, “There are owners and property and

Enda McDonagh, Gift and Call: Towards a Christian Theology of Morality (Dublin:
Gill & Macmillan, 1975) 77.
Takeo Dai, The Anatomy of Dependence (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.) 58-
Stephen Webb, The Gifting God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 19-20.

prospective buyers. The property has no independent moral signifi-

cance. Its ‘worth’ is measured fully by the price agreed upon by buyer
and seller. The relationship of buyer and seller is governed by contract,
an agreement that specifies in often precise detail what each party
expects from the other.”53 This is in direct contradiction to the concept
of gift as put forward in archaic societies, where it is the gift that binds
people to each other and widens the individual’s sense of belonging. As
was stated before, gifts lead to solidarity.

In contrast to this market understanding of gift, theology teaches that

God is the original giver of everything, and God is excessive. God gives
grace and grace overflows from God’s fullness. It is the means by which
we advance from nonbeing to being.54 This gift is given freely, is not
coerced, and the proper response to this gift is gratitude, which signifies
an understanding of dependence on another and a realization that what
we have received is to be shared and not hoarded.55 As humans, we are
able to give only because we have been given, and the first giver is God.
As we accept God’s gift and become gift givers ourselves, we define our
very personhood and establish connections to others, recognizing that
we do not belong to ourselves.56 The end point of giving then becomes a
community that responds to giving with further giving.57

Replacing the Ownership/Property Image with the Concept of

Persons as Gifts

Everything about gift runs counter to the ownership/property image

and operation. The concept of gift is applied universally—all persons,
male and female, are gifts and not possessions. Because our lives are
gifts from God, we are already caught up in the gifting cycle. The fact
that we have been gifted calls us to be givers ourselves. The spirit of the
giver that has been passed on to us in the imago Dei means that our
lives do not belong to us but to God. We become stewards of our lives.
Stewardship means that we are endowed with something to which we
are not entitled, but which is entrusted to our care for a period of time.
It involves caring for something that has ties to another. It means that

Thomas Murray, The Worth of a Child (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1996) 18.
Edward Vacek, Love, Human and Divine (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Univer-
sity Press, 1994) 181.
Richard Gula, The Good Life (New York: Paulist Press, 1999) 125.
Stephen Webb, The Gifting God, p. 129.
Ibid., p. 139.

we cannot absorb this thing into ourselves, but must nurture it so that
it can one day be passed on as good as or better than we received it.
When we are stewards of something, we must one day let it go, for it is
only loaned to us. Stewardship makes us caretakers, not owners, and
therefore ownership cannot be transferred. William May refers to this
relationship as follows: “It emphasizes a relational rather than a pos-
sessional view of the self. It explores the relationship between human
beings for its clues to their being and value and our obligations to them,
rather than assigning values according to the numbers scored.”58 Be-
cause we are gifts of God and possess God’s spirit within us, we cannot
sell ourselves nor can anyone own us. We can only self-gift ourselves to
another and in the process pass on the spirit of God and establish bonds
of solidarity.

These bonds that gifts create are not the contractual, legal bonds of
the market, which are only valuable as long as both parties have some-
thing to gain from the relationship. Gifting bonds, unlike contractual
bonds, which are between people who are concerned about maintaining
their independence and equality, establish relationships that are asym-
metrical. People in gift relationships are not in positions of equality.
The receiver becomes beholding to the giver. So when a woman gifts
herself to a man, not only does he not own her; he is in a position of
indebtedness, and likewise, when a man gifts himself to a woman. Once
we recognize that another has gifted himself or herself to us it enables
us to be gift givers ourselves.

It is our very indebtedness, therefore, that pushes us into becoming

givers ourselves. Being indebted is not a sign of weakness but a sign of
solidarity. It connects us to others, reminding us that we are all inter-
dependent and that sometimes we need to be receivers and sometimes
we need to be givers. Gifting relationships lead to alternating inequal-
ity or interdependence. These relationships require trusting that others
will be there for us when we need them and remind us that we must be
there for others when they need us, without any kind of selfish calcu-
lation. We put ourselves into the hands of our gift partners, realizing
that unconditional love and compassion are the foundation of these
relationships. We give to another not because we expect something in
return but because we have experienced gift.

William May, The Patient’s Ordeal (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University
Press, 1991), p. 37.

Reciprocity in Gift Giving

Reciprocity in the sense of gift giving is very different from the reci-
procity of exchange, which states that because you gave something to
me, I now owe something in return. This is a very individualistic and
legalistic approach to reciprocity. Reciprocity in the sense of gift giving
means that because I have been gifted I too can be a giver. I may not
simply take my gifts and use them for my own welfare, but I need to
move beyond myself and help others to become givers. The value of the
gift is not in ownership but in dispossession. In order to keep the spirit
of the gift alive, the gift needs to be connected to the larger community,
so that the community may be a gifting community. When gifts are
drawn out of circulation and amassed by specific individuals the com-
munity suffers. Gift giving is expansive, it moves outward, whereas
accumulation removes things from circulation and moves inward.
When we are concerned about amassing things or people rather than
sharing our possessions or those people we know with others, we turn
in on ourselves and are more concerned with what others can do for us
than with the gifting process. Gift giving always involves letting go and
moving outwards.

This is the opposite of thinking that we are entitled to something,

which often leads to spending all our energy protecting our entitlement.
When we recognize that we are not entitled to a gift, but that it has been
freely and spontaneously given, we become grateful rather than de-
manding. Martha Beck, when describing her experience of raising a son
who was born with Down Syndrome writes: “I have been blessed with
love both human and divine, and I believe that there is no essential
difference between them. Any person who acts out of love is acting for
God. There is no way to repay such acts, except perhaps to pass them on
to others.”59 This captures the type of reciprocity that gifting bonds

The importance of gifting relationships then is not the gift that is

passed on but the ties that the gift establishes. With each gift we give,
we pass on part of ourselves as well as God’s love. Possession, on the
other hand, pulls everything to the self. When we recognize another as
gift, it enables us to hold onto them with a lightness of touch. They are
not ours. They are not extensions of ourselves. We cannot control them
and some day they will be taken from us.

Martha Beck, Expecting Adam (New York: Random House, 1997) 296.

Applying the Concept of Gift to Improve the Status of Women

Recognizing persons as gifts rather than as possessions is the call of

Gaudium et spes. This metaphor enables us to understand that others
do not belong to us but have come into our lives because someone has
loved us. Rather than attempting to control others we should be grate-
ful for their presence and attempt to become gift givers ourselves.
Bonds of solidarity are established between those who gift and those
who have been gifted and the circle of reciprocity is continued.

There is a danger, however. Some people who have been gifted may
opt out of the gifting cycle and pull all to themselves. This means that
some will do more gift giving than others and reciprocity is broken.
Although we are all called “not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together,’
but are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other’ . . .”60, neverthe-
less, because sin exists, this mutuality is frequently not expressed. This
then puts those who constantly give, usually women, in vulnerable
positions. Pope John Paul recognizes this when he states: “Among the
fundamental values linked to women’s actual lives is what has been
called a ‘capacity for the other.’ Although a certain type of feminist
rhetoric makes demands ‘for ourselves,’ women preserve the deep in-
tuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life,
and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.”61

The tension that exists then is that women are called on to continue
to be givers and lovers even when this very activity puts them at great
risk. On the other hand, church documents recognize that women
should not be discriminated against for doing this activity. Although
women should continue to be gift givers and caregivers, as should all
people, the high price that women have paid because of these activities
must be more fully recognized. Many more concrete statements and
actions must be put in place to protect women.

First, everyone must continue to fight for the human rights of women
recognizing their full humanity. Laws must be put into effect that pro-
tect women. Although hearts need to be converted there also must be
external controls for those who do not wish to respect women. The
church needs to recognize more fully the depth of violence against
women and needs to work on weeding out any tendencies in church

John Paul II, “Letter to the Bishops,” 6.
Ibid., 13.

language or action that might contribute to the injustices and violence

committed against women.

Second, the church needs to develop more fully the concept of com-
plimentarity. Too frequently this concept has been used to discriminate
against women. A careful analysis is needed showing how discrimina-
tion is a social construct, built around difference, so that stereotypes
and traditional practices that harm women are eliminated.

Third, there needs to be a greater appreciation that many young girls

and some boys have not had the opportunity to develop sufficiently to be
mature givers. Before one can freely give there must be an understand-
ing and appreciation of the self. Too frequently, young women have
been pushed into the care-giving role before they have sufficiently ma-
tured. Much more education needs to be done in this area.

Fourth, the church needs to do a much deeper, critical analysis of the

family. The family can be a dangerous place for women and children. It
is insufficient to simply tell husbands to love their wives. Much more
concrete guidance is necessary. For example, husbands should be en-
couraged and taught to help with the dishes, changing the diapers, and
carrying the water. In many cultures, men must be taught to be care-
givers and the church should be in the forefront of this education.
Changing practices changes hearts. The family is the domestic church
and it is in the family that children learn what justice and mutuality
look like.

The call of Gaudium et spes is that women must be respected and

appreciated. All discrimination against women must end. For this to
happen, however, there needs to be a change of hearts as well as laws
put into place that protect women. I close with another comment from
Pope John Paul’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the
Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,”
“But, in the final analysis, every human being, man or woman, is des-
tined to be ‘for the other.’ In this perspective, that which is called ‘femi-
ninity’ is more than simply an attribute of the female sex. The word
designates indeed the fundamental human capacity to live for the other
and because of the other.”62

Ibid., 14.